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Chad Opposition Stay-at-Home Strike Meets Limited Response


Opposition leaders in Chad have tried to organize a stay at home strike in the capital to protest the results of a constitutional referendum announced last week. The measure, which repeals a presidential term limit, passed easily amid an opposition boycott and allegations of fraud. The government has done all it can to ensure the protest action failed.

A group of dancers and musicians performs at a major intersection in Chad's capital N'Djamena. They say they have been hired by Chadian authorities to give the city the appearance of normality on a day opposition leaders had called for "la ville morte," the French wording for dead city.

The stay-at-home strike was to protest an overwhelming victory for supporters of constitutional changes that will allow President Idriss Deby to run for a third elected term. He has been in office since leading an insurgency that toppled the former president in 1990.

The opposition accused authorities of massive fraud, saying the more than 70 percent turnout claimed by the national election commission was impossible.

A spokesman for President Deby's political party denied the vote was rigged, despite what many witnesses said was a low turnout.

But the strike was only partially observed and was far from the citywide shutdown opposition leaders had hoped for.

One dancer hired to make the city look lively says he is against Mr. Deby's administration. He says he worries for Chad's future, for the future of its people and its children. But in a country where unemployment is rampant, salaries are paid only erratically, and certain regions are threatened by famine, turning down a days work is not an option.

He says, in Chad, people can no longer cry. Instead, he says, they dance.

On the streets of N'Djamena, taxi drivers have also come out to work. Many shops are open. And most government workers, who say they have been promised the payment of their salaries are in their offices.

One taxi driver simply says he is working because there are customers.

A member of the Chadian League of Human Rights, Tenebaye Massalbaye says government intimidation is to blame for poor protest turnout.

Mr. Massalbaye says government authorities broadcasting on state radio have threatened those that do not show up for work. There is a reinforced police presence in the city day and night, he says. It is normal, he says, that, under such conditions, the opposition has been unable to garner the level of support they say they achieved for a boycott of the June 6 referendum.

Mohamet Dalou, who lives in N'Djamena, says he will observe the dead city strike. But he says, he blames the opposition's tactic of boycotting the polls.

"It is not a good strategy, because now the ruling party uses this boycotting to show all over the world they won. And the opposition, they do not have really something to show that they are right. It is not a good policy," he said.

Despite projected oil revenues of around $250 million for 2005, its second year of oil revenues, little of Chad's petroleum wealth has yet to trickle down to the people. The recent influx of refugees from neighboring Sudan's troubled Darfur region has placed an increased strain of the country's meager resources, fueling growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Deby's administration.

Chad's next presidential election is set for next year. The usually fragmented opposition says it is planning other protests in the weeks ahead, which it hopes will be more successful.

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