Rebels seeking to overthrow Chad's president have attacked the capital. President Idriss Deby has said his forces have successfully repelled the attack, but the situation in the city remains tense.

Residents of the Chadian capital, Ndjamena, were woken up by the sound of gunfire early this morning, says journalist Evariste Ngaralbaye.

The attack began around five in the morning, he says, with both small and heavy arms fire in the city. Ngaralbaye, speaking from the eastern part of Ndjamena near where the fighting occurred, says the main thrust of the attack targeted a neighborhood near the parliament building. He says, light weapons fire could still be heard in the city center near the presidential palace.

Initial fighting with intense artillery and heavy machine gun fire lasted several hours.

Speaking to French radio, President Idriss Deby said rebel forces from the United Front for Change had attacked before dawn. Government forces responded, he said, completely destroying a column of rebel fighters.

He called the rebel strategy, a lightning offensive from the east that brought them to within 100 kilometers of Ndjamena Wednesday, suicidal. He said the army is now in full control of the city.

The United Front for Change, a group of several rebel movements, has vowed to topple Mr. Deby before elections scheduled for early May. Until this week, most fighting between the rebels and the army had occurred along Chad's eastern border with Sudan.

Since Sunday, rebels have led a series of offensives across Chad.

France has about 1,200 troops permanently in Chad. It sent 150 more soldiers earlier this week as the security situation worsened.

France says it has no intention of participating in the fighting, and President Deby said the French military had not been involved.

But journalist Ngaralbaye says the French army presence is visible in the capital.

"This morning a French Mirage fighter jet over flew the city," he said. French helicopters continue to patrol the skies above Ndjamena keeping an eye on rebel positions.

Many rebels are soldiers who defected from Chad's army during a wave of desertions late last year.

President Deby maintains the rebels are backed by neighboring Sudan. Khartoum has denied having anything to do with the group.