Opposition Leader in Chad Is Killed in a Shootout Months Before Elections

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The main opposition leader in the central African nation of Chad was killed on Wednesday in a shootout at his party headquarters in the capital, the country’s prosecutor has announced.

Yaya Dillo, who had been expected to run for president in an election planned for May, was among dozens of people killed and injured in an exchange of gunfire with security forces in Ndjamena, the capital. Heavy gunfire was heard in Ndjamena on Wednesday, and the internet was cut off.

A landlocked, desert country surrounded by neighbors battling insurgencies, plagued by coups or at war, Chad has long been seen as a linchpin for stability and is an important U.S. ally in the region, despite its political travails.

After its longtime president, Idriss Déby, was killed on the battlefield in 2021, his son took power in what analysts agree was a coup d’état. But Western nations did not condemn the move to the same extent that they did coups in neighboring Niger and Sudan.

The death of Mr. Dillo — a former rebel who was the cousin of the country’s president, as well as his most vocal critic — leaves a void in Chad’s political opposition less than three months before national elections are set to be held.

Chadian officials said previously that there had been an attack on the country’s National Security Agency, and accused Mr. Dillo’s party, the Socialist Party Without Borders, of being behind it — which Mr. Dillo denied.

In a news conference broadcast on national television on Thursday, Oumar Mahamat Kedelaye, the national prosecutor, accused Mr. Dillo of heading a band of armed men that had launched an attack on the intelligence agency.

“This well-armed group in 11 vehicles attacked the National Security Agency, and this attack led to dozens of people wounded, and deaths, among them Yaya Dillo,” Mr. Kedelaye said.

But the fight between Mr. Dillo’s party and the authorities went further back: last week, the government said the headquarters of the Supreme Court had been ransacked, and later accused one of Mr. Dillo’s party members of trying to assassinate the court’s president. Mr. Dillo dismissed the purported ransacking as “staged.”

Amnesty International raised concerns about the government’s version of events.

Mr. Kedelaye’s statement “does not yet clarify the sequence of events between the attack on the Supreme Court more than 10 days ago and the death of Yaya Dillo,” said Abdoulaye Diarra, Amnesty International’s researcher on Central Africa.

The incident shows how fragile the political process is heading into the upcoming presidential election, said Mr. Diarra, who called on the government to investigate impartially.

As of Thursday afternoon in Ndjamena, there was no comment from either the United States or France — both important partners to Chad in the fight against terrorism.

In recent months, Chad’s president, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno — known as Mahamat Kaka — has been trying to consolidate his power ahead of elections. He brought another opposition leader, Succès Masra, into the government as prime minister.

Mr. Masra offered his condolences to Mr. Dillo’s family via Facebook on Thursday after what he described as the “unhappy events” over the last few days.

Right up until the end, Mr. Dillo had also been communicating via Facebook. In one of his last posts, he wrote that he and his men were being surrounded.

“Soldiers are encircling us,” he wrote.



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