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Demonstrators burning a French flag during protests in N’Djamena on May 14

Chad’s public prosecutor on Monday said he was seeking two-year prison terms against six opposition leaders arrested after violent anti-French protests last month.

“We are calling for two-year jail terms with fines of 100,000 CFA francs” (around $160, 150 euros) against each of the defendants, prosecutor Moussa Wade Djibrine told AFP as their trial got underway.

The case comes against a backdrop of political tension in Chad, where a military junta is in power following the death of the country’s veteran leader 14 months ago.

An authorised march in the capital N’Djamena on May 14 against France’s military presence in Chad turned violent.

Seven petrol stations belonging to the French oil major Total were attacked and 12 police were injured, according to a police toll.

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In the aftermath, the authorities carried out a string of arrests among the march organisers, who denied any responsibility for the violence.

Those charged include Max Loalngar, coordinator for Wakit Tamma, which is the country’s main opposition coalition, and Gounoung Vaima Gan-Fare, secretary of the Chadian trade union federation.

The six have been charged with disturbing public order and destruction of property. They began a hunger protest on May 23.

The verdict is expected to be announced on Monday at a court at Moussoro, around 300 kilometres (180 miles) from N’Djamena.

Trade unions, opposition political parties, armed groups and international NGOs have called for the six to be released immediately and unconditionally.

“We will see if the court is independent and follows the (prosecutor) or not,” said Djerandi Laguerre, a lawyer for Wakit Tamma.

Defence attorneys boycotted proceedings, which took place amid a heavy police presence.

– Junta –

Chad has been under military rule since President Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled with an iron fist for three decades, was killed in April 2021 during operations to crush rebels in the north of the country.

He was succeeded by his son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general.

He took the helm at the head of a 15-member group of senior officers and was appointed transitional president.

The junta immediately dissolved parliament, sacked the government and suspended the constitution.

It vowed to hold “free and democratic elections” within 18 months after staging a proposed nationwide “dialogue” on the country’s problems.

The planned reconciliation forum should have started last month but has run into hefty problems.

Armed groups failed to reach a joint position with the junta at so-called “pre-dialogue” talks in Qatar, and the political opposition has withdrawn from the organising process.

– French ally –

Chad has a long history of coups and revolts since the vast arid country gained independence from France in 1960.

The military’s takeover last year was widely accepted by Western countries, led by France, which sees Chad as a close ally in its fight against jihadists in the Sahel.

Other recent coups in Africa — in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso — have encountered condemnation or regional sanctions.

France has thousands of troops in the Sahel, including in Chad, under its Barkhane mission.

But in February, France announced it would withdraw its troops from Mali and deploy them elsewhere after falling out with the junta in Bamako, which has woven close ties with the Kremlin.

On May 16, Deby, reacting to the violence that had unfolded two days earlier, attacked what he called “false and unfounded allegations” that French troops would redeploy in Chad. AFP