Prime Minister resigns after civil servant strikes

Chad's prime minister Moussa Faki has resigned after a series of strikes by unpaid civil servants and signs of increasing tensions with President Idriss Deby, diplomats and parliamentarians said on Friday.

Faki, who comes from the same influential Zagawa tribe as the president, was appointed prime minister in June 2003. He stood down on Thursday and was replaced by Pascal Yoadimnadji, a former agriculture minister, state radio said.

No official reason was given for Faki's departure but his resignation came after months of strikes by unpaid teachers, health workers and Finance Ministry employees. The ministers for education and the economy were replaced at the same time.

"The prime minister was pretty upset that he didn't have the money to pay civil servants. How could he run his government without the money to pay people?" one Western diplomat in the capital N'djamena told IRIN. "Where is the money? At the presidency as far as I know."

The diplomat noted that Deby had doubled the size of his presidential staff recently.

Chad, an arid landlocked country in central Africa, ranks as one of the world's poorest nations despite its new-found status as an oil exporter. A 200,000-strong tide of refugees from the troubled Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan has further strained the government's meagre resources.

The Chadian government finally began paying overdue salaries last week, but it was too little too late for some trade union leaders.

"The prime minister did nothing for us, while we, the workers, were struggling to put food on the table," said Djibrine Assali, the head of Chad's Federation of Trade Unionists.

There were also hints of a falling out between Faki and Deby.

"The president told us that the country didn't have a government. What's happened is no surprise," one parliamentarian from Deby's ruling Patriotic Movement of Wellbeing (MPS) party, told IRIN on condition of anonymity.

Some commentators also saw the prime minister's departure as part of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to ensure that Deby's faction of the Zagawa ethnic group, which hails from eastern Chad and Darfur, holds on to power.

"It's the first step in fixing the succession issue," the Western diplomat said.

Deby's party recently forced a constitutional amendment through parliament that would enable him to serve a third term as elected head of state after his present five-year term expires in 2006. This has still to be endorsed by a referendum.

But last year the 52-year-old president undertook several trips to Paris for medical checks and despite official denials, there are persistent rumours that he is ill.

The other threat is a coup. Less than a year ago, disgruntled soldiers staged a mutiny which authorities said was a warm-up to toppling Deby.

If anything were to happen to the president, the head of the national assembly is charged with overseeing elections and at the moment that position is held by a southerner, Nassour Waido, from the Moussey ethnic group.

"Now we have a southerner as the new prime minister, we will be looking to see if there's an attempt to remove the southerner from the head of the assembly and replace him with a northerner," the diplomat said.

Yoadimnadji, the new prime minister, is from the Gor ethnic group from the extreme south of Chad.