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Chadians Protest French Intervention in Kidnap Saga

Students and other demonstrators have rallied in the streets of Chad's capital, N'Djamena, protesting against French efforts to repatriate aid workers charged in the recent Zoe's Ark adoption controversy. Local journalists say foreigners in the capital are scared to leave their homes in the wake of anti-French sentiment. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Chadian journalist Evariste Ngaralbaye, who was on the scene, says hundreds of high school students and unemployed youths marched through the streets. He says they shouted anti-French slogans and carried placards telling France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to "stay out of Chad".

Ngaralbaye says "not a shadow of a non-African", in his words, could be seen on the streets of N'Djamena. Most foreigners, he says, are too scared to leave their homes.

Last month a group of French charity workers were arrested in Chad after trying to fly more than 100 African children to Europe without authorization.

Some of the charity workers are being charged with fraud and abduction and could face up to 20 years of forced labor.

Earlier this month, Mr. Sarkozy obtained the release of three French journalists, three Spanish flight attendants and a Belgian pilot who had initially been detained in Chad over the affair.

French authorities are trying to arrange for the six charity workers still in Chad's custody to be tried in France. Agreements dating back to the independence era allow France to try its nationals on French soil when charged in its former colonies.

Ngaralbaye says protesters, and especially Chadian lawyers, are reacting against what they view as excessive meddling from the former colonial power.

But Ngaralbaye adds it is the government which has organized these protests. He says it is still difficult to know the extent of grassroots animosity.

Either way, he says, the situation is serving to boost the popularity of Chadian president Idriss Deby. He says the president uses what he calls "the French card" very pragmatically.

He says in April 2006 help from French troops was decisive in preventing rebels from taking over Chad's capital.

Now, he says, the adoption saga is boosting Mr. Deby's popularity, depicting him as a strong leader defending his country against perceived neo-colonialism.