During 15 years of harsh and eccentric rule, President Ngarta Tombalbaye of Chad survived at least seven major assassination attempts. Last week his luck ran out. In a surprise sunrise attack, uniformed soldiers and police, led by General Mbailai Odingar, acting commander of Chad's 4,000-man army, stormed the white-walled presidential palace in Ndjamena, capital of this Central African nation. Tombalbaye's death was announced over national radio, and General Odingar claimed that the armed forces had "exercised their responsibilities before God and the nation." Almost immediately, thousands of brightly swathed men and women poured into the dusty streets of the sun-scorched city, singing, dancing and joyfully chanting, "Tombalbaye is dead."
A former schoolteacher and union leader, Tombalbaye entered politics in 1947 and became Chad's head of state when it gained independence in 1960 after 47 years of French colonial rule. Several months later the dictatorial Tombalbaye merged the main opposition party into his own Progressivesa move that allowed him to be elected President without opposition in 1962.
Despite his ruthless oppression of political opponents, Tombalbaye was never able to gain complete control of Chad, a country torn by traditional religious and tribal animosities. Starting in 1965 and later with the support of the French Foreign Legion, Tombalbaye fought a guerrilla war against the Moslem rebels from his country's northern and eastern desert regions. The Moslems, who constitute 52% of the population, resented the political dominance that Tombalbaye gave to the Bantu tribesmen of Chad's tropical south.
Mock Burial. More recently, Tom-balbaye's opposition has come from fellow Bantu military officers and members of his own party as well. In 1973 General Felix Malloum, then commander in chief of the army, was arrested for allegedly conspiring to overthrow Tombalbaye. Early this year Mrs. Kaltouma Guembang, former head of the Progressive Party's women's wing, was tried for attempting to kill the President by witchcraft. She allegedly hired wizards to pierce the eyes of a black sheepsymbolizing Tombalbayeand bury it alive. The movement to oust Tombalbaye gained momentum last summer when, as part of an authenticity campaign called Chaditude, he ordered all high government officials, civil servants and military officers to undergo Yondo, a sometimes fatal initiation ritual. The ordeal, which Tombalbaye himself underwent as an adolescent, is known to involve flogging, facial scarring, drugging and mock burial (TIME, Nov. 18).