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Africa

'Fed up' Chadians shut down N'Djamena

media Chadian President Deby attends a news conference at the close of the Assembly of the African Union at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, January 31 2016 REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Chad's opposition brought the country to a standstill on Wednesday in an act of defiance against the government. President Idriss Deby Itno is feeling the heat over his fifth term bid in office, but also his handling of the brutal rape of a teenage girl by the sons of senior officials.

"That's Enough!" was the rallying cry of opposition and civil society groups in Chad, who called for a nationwide shutdown on Wednesday, and largely succeeded.

The protest emptied the capital N'Djamena of shoppers and cleared traffic. It's the sixth major demonstration since January, and not a good sign for the Chadian president, who is seeking a fifth term in office on April 10.

Yet it's this that has sparked the wave of unrest. Idriss Deby Itno, who has been in power for 25 years is facing growing opposition from members of the public who feel he may have overstayed his welcome.

"We are tired, very tired," Abdelkerim Egrey, head of the Chadian Diaspora in France, told RFI. "We are tired of economic problems, corruption, mismanagement, we are tired of this regime," he said.

Surprisingly for an oil-producing nation, the benefits have not trickled down to those who need it the most. The country's harsh climate has not done it any favours either.

The brutal rape of a 17 year old girl by the sons of senior officials, that has become a national scandal, has added fuel to the flames.

The girl - Zouhara - was allegedly kidnapped and gang-raped by five young men on February 15, two of whom are believed to be the sons of army generals.

A video of her naked and in tears was posted on Facebook, sparking widespread public anger.

Her father Mahamat Choukhou told RFI that cases of sexual violence in Chad are not uncommon:

"Zouhara's story has unearthed a whole string of other cases that were never dealt with," he said. "Because Zouhara spoke out, other women are now coming forward to seek justice. There is no justice, and now everyone knows."

The Opposition has latched onto Zouhara's case as proof that Chad needs a democratic alternative.

"We cannot continue like this," Baldal Oyamka, head of the Chadian Human Rights League - who was behind Wednesday's protest- told RFI.

"Given the serious social, economic crisis we're in, the only thing needed is change," he said.

Experts however are unconvinced that the president's political future is in the balance. "The president has a progressive record over all when it comes to women's rights," François Ndengwe of the African Advisory Board, told RFI.

"He campaigned strongly against child marriage at the level of the African Union, you can't fault him on protecting women."

It remains to be seen how positive his record remains in light of the Zouhara rape case.

But already the transfer of the five suspects to a secure prison in the middle of the desert has dismayed Chadians, who say that justice can only be granted if they are subjected to a public hearing.

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