N'DJAMENA, Chad – Chadian President Idriss Deby faced off against more than a dozen challengers Sunday as he seeks another term after more than 25 years in power in this central African nation which is battling Islamic extremists.
The election comes amid mounting international concern about Chad's human rights record. Four activists are currently awaiting verdicts on charges of trying to disturb the peace and resisting arrest. Internet access was down in the capital of N'Djamena on election day, residents reported.
Deby, who has been in power since 1990, could face a second round of voting because of the large number of candidates. It could be one of the toughest challenges he has faced, according to Thibaud Lesueur, central African senior analyst for the International Crisis Group.
"It's quite unprecedented to have so many people in the street," he said, noting that many have been afraid to demonstrate against the incumbent.
Chad, a former French colony, is now home to the French military's operations in Africa. Chadian soldiers are also on the front lines of the battle against Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group based in northeastern Nigeria.
Many Chadians see the cooperation with the international militaries, including the French, U.S., Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, as international acceptance of Deby's leadership, Lesueur said.
As a result of Chad's support for the ant-extremist battle, the country has been attacked by Boko Haram through a series of suicide bombing attacks. The regional economic upheaval has severely disrupted trade, deepening poverty in this country that has remained desperately poor despite producing oil.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed to this report.