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Chadian President Declares State of Emergency

Naomi Schwarz

Chad's President Idriss Deby has imposed a state of emergency in his country, following a failed rebel attack on the capital earlier this month. Activists say he is taking advantage of the situation to tighten his grip on power. Concerns also remain over opposition leaders who were detained during the unrest. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

In a speech on national television and radio, President Deby said the nationwide state of emergency would help restore security. The state of emergency began Friday, and is set to last 15 days.

In his broadcast speech, Mr. Deby said, what he called the "exceptional measures" were necessary to "assure the regular functioning of the state."

Under the constitution, the state of emergency allows the government to control movement of people and vehicles, ban meetings, and control what is published in the media. A midnight to dawn (6:00 a.m.) curfew has been imposed across the country.

Olivier Bercault, of the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, says the government must do all it can to ensure security, but that basic human rights should not be violated in the process. And he says in Chad, they have been.

"It is really amazing that we are going back to the time of Hissene Habre when the country was run by a dictator and I hope that the situation is going to improve very, very fast," he said. "Civilians [are] start[ing] to get their old reflexes, and [are] afraid to talk publicly, and to be seen with more than three or four people in the streets."

Human rights activists accuse Habre, Chad's former leader, of ethnic massacres, political killings, and torture. He denies the accusations.

Since the rebel attacks early this month, the army and police have been conducting house-to-house searches for rebels and looted goods. But civilians report some soldiers are stealing private property, including motorbikes, televisions and cash.

Some residents say arrests target not only suspected rebel collaborators, but those seen to have cheered the rebel arrival in the capital.

At least three Chadian opposition leaders disappeared during the rebel attacks, leading some activists to accuse Mr. Deby of profiting from the chaos to stifle all his opposition.

Paul Simon Hendy, an analyst for the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, says this would not be new behavior from Mr. Deby.

"What we are seeing is simply the continuation of what has been done in the last 17 years since Deby is in power," he said. "Deby has always been a warlord. He has never tolerated the opposition."

Hendy says the international community needs to pay more attention to the internal political situation in Chad, rather than assuming the problems all stem from spillover from the conflict in neighboring Darfur.

"A regional answer has to be found by taking into account the specificities of each country," he said. "For the moment I have the feeling that only Sudan and Darfur are a matter of concern and less the other countries."

The United Nations has said more than 15,000 civilians fled Chad after the fighting caused widespread destruction and civilian deaths.

A European Union peacekeeping force tasked with protecting humanitarian efforts was set to deploy in eastern Chad, near the border with Darfur, this month. The conflict in the capital has delayed their arrival.

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