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Voting underway in crucial Chad elections

Voting has begun in Chad, as authoritarian ruler Idriss Deby seeks to extend his 26-year rule. The elections are deemed crucial for the stability of the country, backed by the West in a war against Islamists.

Chad is holding its presidential elections on Sunday amid street protests by opposition groups and an increasing threat of Islamist violence.

There are 13 candidates running against President Idriss Deby (picture above), who is regarded as an important ally by the West in its efforts to defeat the

Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram.

The 63-year-old Deby is expected to win a fifth term in office, but is facing

unprecedented dissent against his rule.

His government is cracking down on opposition activists and has banned protest marches throughout the country.

On Thursday, police fired live rounds and tear gas at hundreds of people protesting agsinst proposed jail terms for five anti-government leaders.

"They can shoot and kill at any time," said Goukouni Maina, the deputy leader of a trade union alliance.

Observers say that Deby is using the international support against Islamic terrorism to

silence domestic opposition to his rule.

Deby, who received military training in France, has clung to power ever since a military coup in 1990, despite several attempts to unseat him.

Despite his claims of Chad's "emergence," half of the African country's 13 million people still live below the poverty line, and seven out of 10 people cannot read or write.

The country has one of the most capable militaries in the region and has played a central role in the battle against al Qaeda affiliates.

shs/tj (AFP, Reuters)

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