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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Chad confronts rebels in capital
Soldiers in N'Djamena on Thursday
Soldiers dumped bodies on the front steps of the National Assembly
Heavy fighting has subsided in Chad's capital after breaking out at dawn, between government troops and rebels trying to overthrow the president.

A BBC correspondent in N'Djamena said gunfire and shelling began at dawn and lasted for some two hours.

Speaking on the radio, President Idriss Deby said government forces had destroyed a small rebel column that attempted to enter the capital.

He said that government troops were in "complete control" of N'Djamena.

Only sporadic gunfire could be heard around the capital following his announcement.

Speaking from near the parliament in the north-east of the city, correspondent Stephanie Hancock told the BBC News website that the area was in the hands of government forces and they had piled bodies of what they said were rebels on the front steps of the National Assembly.

Many more had been rounded up and were being guarded by troops.

Mr Deby, who said he was talking from the presidential palace in the capital, said elections scheduled for early next month would go ahead as planned.

Foreigners have been rushing to muster points in the city from where they can be evacuated. French troops have also taken up positions in the capital.

Gunfire

The United Force for Change rebels have vowed to overthrow Mr Deby before the polls, which the opposition are boycotting.

A rebel spokesman said rebel forces were moving into the capital from the east, having made rapid advances in recent days, and would overthrow the president "by nightfall".

Map

The UN refugee agency's Myriam Houtart in the city told the BBC she believed that fighting was moving towards the city centre where the presidential building is located.

"We are hearing gunfire and mortar fire," she said.

"We have helicopters flying over the city. They have progressed towards the centre of the city."

She said a lot of people were staying in their houses.

Advance

An army source told AFP news agency that fighting broke out when troops attacked rebel positions near the city.

Soldiers in N'Djamena on Thursday
The government is blaming Sudan for the rebellion

A day earlier, the rebels were said to have moved from the east of the country to within 100km (65 miles) of the capital. Earlier this week they were fighting in Mongo - some 400km east of the capital.

Security in the capital was tightened overnight, with armoured vehicles and a heavy army presence on the streets.

On Wednesday, people had been queuing at banks to withdraw money and there were reports that many expatriates were preparing for a speedy exit.

The rebels accuse Mr Deby of being a dictator and say they want to organise a national forum that will lead to a transitional government and on to democratic elections.

Chad, which is rich in oil, has been hit by the conflict in the neighbouring Sudanese western Darfur region, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing across the border.

Mr Deby's government blames Sudan for inspiring the uprising - an accusation Sudan denies. Sudan accuses Mr Deby of supporting the Sudanese rebels in Darfur who belong to his ethnic group.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the situation was undermining efforts to stabilise the situation in Darfur.

Chad's former colonial power, France, flew in an extra 150 troops from Gabon on Wednesday to supplement the 1,200 troops already in the country.

The French Defence Ministry have acknowledged that one of its mirage jets in Chad fired warning shots towards rebels advancing on N'Djamena from the east on Wednesday.


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