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Chad swears in president after disputed election, ending years of military rule

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Chad swore in Mahamat Deby Itno as the president on Thursday after holding elections earlier this month, completing a disputed transition to democratic rule after he seized power three years ago.

Deby Itno, also known as Mahamat Idriss Deby, took power after his father Idriss Deby Itno was killed fighting rebels in 2021 after ruling the country for three decades. The long-delayed May 6 election came after three years of military rule.

His main rival, Succès Masra, who contested the results earlier this month, resigned from his post as prime minister on Wednesday. Masra had been involved in protests against Deby Itno’s decision to extend his time in power, and fled the country in 2022. He was allowed to return last year and was appointed prime minister.

Masra, who claimed to have won the election, filed an appeal to challenge the preliminary results which showed Deby Itno had won, but it was dismissed. The oil-exporting country of nearly 18 million people hasn’t had a democratic transfer of power since it became independent in 1960, after decades of French colonial rule.

In his first presidential address, Deby Itno said his government would focus on boosting Chad’s agricultural and farming sectors, and investing in education, access to water and healthcare.

“I’ve heard your yearning for change, and I’ve understood you. Let’s all play our part, individually and collectively, to bring about the change we all hope, desire and expect,” he said.

Western leaders congratulated Deby Itno despite irregularities in the vote, which included Chad’s decision to ban 2,900 EU-trained observers from monitoring the election.

Chad is seen by the U.S. and France as one of the last remaining stable allies in the vast Sahel region following military coups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in recent years. The ruling juntas in all three nations have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance instead.

“Although there were troubling shortcomings, we welcome the milestones in Chad’s transition process,” the U.S. State Department said last week.

The British government also said the election marked an important milestone in the return to civilian rule. “The UK commends the engagement of the Chadian people and welcomes the largely peaceful way in which the elections and campaign were conducted,” it said in a statement.

By JESSICA DONATI
Associated Press

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