A map of Chad locating regions of Tibesti and Kanem, where clashes have occurred between the army and rebels

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno has died in combat after three decades in power, the army said Tuesday, opening a period of uncertainty in a country that is a key strategic ally of the West in a troubled region.

His son was immediately named transitional leader as head of a military council and both the government and parliament were dissolved, but the army vowed “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transitional period.

Chad had claimed victory against the fighters, but soon after the announcement of Deby’s death, they vowed to pursue their offensive and march on the capital N’Djamena.

The army also announced a curfew and border closures, while a state funeral was planned for Friday.

– ‘Essential ally’ –

Former colonial power France hailed Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism” and called for a peaceful transition over a limited timeframe.

Following the announcement of Deby’s death, presidential guard officers in civilian clothes roamed N’Djamena with walkie-talkies and handguns.

– ‘Defending the nation’ –

Deby “has just breathed his last breath defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield,” army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement read out on state television.

The army said a military council led by the late president’s 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, would replace him.

He signed a decree Tuesday setting out a military council with 15 generals, including himself and 14 others known to have been part of the late president’s circle of loyalists.

On Monday, the army claimed a “great victory” against FACT, saying it had killed more than 300 rebels and captured 150 others, with the loss of five soldiers. 

“We categorically reject the transition,” he said.

Deby, who had been among the world’s longest-serving leaders, had on previous occasions gone to the frontlines as government forces battled rebels.

His victory had never been in doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

Deby was a herder’s son from the Zaghawa ethnic group who took the classic path to power through the army.

The government had sought Monday to assure concerned residents that the offensive in the provinces of Tibesti and Kanem was over.

They were later withdrawn apart from a perimeter around the president’s office.

One analyst said the country was “entering uncharted territory.”

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