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After Financial Pledges, France Urges Chad to Hold Elections

FILE - Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno (R) shakes hands with France Minister of Army Forces Florence Parly before their meeting at the presiedential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, July 31, 2017.

France on Monday urged Chadian authorities to press ahead with parliamentary elections after securing billions of dollars in pledges from donor countries aimed at helping to revive the country's struggling economy.

President Idriss Deby, who was re-elected in 2016 after gaining power in 1990 at the head of an armed rebellion, said in February that lack of financial resources meant Chad's parliamentary elections would be postponed indefinitely.

"The legislative elections are an important moment in democratic life," French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters in a daily briefing. "We hope in this regard that the Chadian authorities ... will be in a position to announce a calendar [for elections] soon."

In a statement on Friday, Chad's government said it had secured about $18.5 billion in pledges for a 2017-2021 national development program, double its original expectations.

Romatet-Espagne said France would contribute 223 million euros ($267.27 million).

The former French colony, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been rocked by humanitarian crises over the past decade, including conflicts in the east and south, drought in the arid Sahel region and flooding.

That has been compounded since 2012 by instability on its borders with Libya, Nigeria and Central African Republic, forcing Chad to increase its security budget to handle thousands of refugees and counter a growing cross-border threat.

Its economy has especially been hit by a more than 50 percent drop in the price of oil, which represent three-quarters of its revenues. However, critics say too much of its revenues goes to the army.

"Military spending has helped Chad intervene in the Central African Republic, Mali, in neighboring countries threatened by Boko Haram and as far afield as the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to fight Houthi combatants in Yemen," International Crisis Group analyst Richard Moncrieff said in a note on Sept. 8.

"This engagement has strengthened relations with Western powers and brought substantial financial and political support.

The EU, France and the U.S. in particular today consider Deby as their principal partner in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. For Deby it is win-win: tackle domestic armed opposition, pay his troops and gain significant leverage over donors."

The headquarters of France's 4,000-strong counter-terrorism Barkhane force is in the Chadian capital N'djamena.

Asked at Science Po university on Sept. 6 whether France's policy in West Africa was still based on "Francafrique," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sought to play down that perception.

"We no longer talk about Francafrique but AfricaFrance," Le Drian said. "France does not support corrupt [leaders], but on the contrary there are presidents who have been elected by universal suffrage - you mentioned some of them [Deby and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou] - and whose elections were not contested, and that is the reality."

Franceafrique describes an informal web of relationships Paris has maintained with its former African colonies and its support, sometimes in the form of military backing, for politicians who favor French business interests.

($1 = 0.8344 euros)