Chad junta chief takes campaign to opposition strongholdThu, 25 Apr 2024 18:50:30 GMT

The president of military-led Chad campaigned Thursday in the southern opposition stronghold of Moundou for a May presidential election he is widely expected to win, after his main rivals were ousted from the race.General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno seized the presidency in a 2021 coup after the death of his father, Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the Sahel country with an iron fist for more than three decades. He had promised to hand power back to a civilian government within 18 months and told the African Union he would not stand for election as president.But in March he announced his candidacy for the presidency, and the same month authorities banned 10 opposition candidates from running — just weeks after Itno’s main rival Yaya Dillo Djerou was shot dead in an army assault on his PSF party headquarters.On Thursday, Itno repeated the slogan “May 6 is a knockout” to the crowd.”I did not come empty handed, but with a vision of society for the next five years,” he told several thousand people gathered in a heavily guarded stadium.The southern regions that Itno is touring, with a majority of Christian or animist communities, have a history of vocal opposition despite government repression. “Moundou has always been at the heart of protests against the political system in Chad and has suffered repression from the authorities because of this,” said Ladiba Gondeu, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of N’Djamena. In October 2022, Moundou was the site of a bloody crackdown after protests over a two-year extension of Deby’s transition period, initially set for 18 months. According to the Chadian Human Rights League, 34 people were killed.For this election, Itno has been campaigning on claims to strengthen peace and national unity and build basic infrastructure. His Patriotic Salvation Movement party (MPS) has recently reopened branches in Moundou.But the city still fears repression and many residents feel marginalised by the predominantly Muslim regime that holds power around 470 kilometres (300 miles) away in N’Djamena. The region largely favours Itno’s opponent Succes Masra, who has won over Moundou’s youth, according to Gondeu at the University of N’Djamena. His campaign rally in the city is set for April 28.