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Chinese in Chad moved to safety
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The wreckage of burned cars in a street of N'Djamena. Tank battles in the streets and helicopter air strikes rocked the Chad capital Sunday as President Idriss Deby tried to win back lost territory and foreigners fled the country. [Agencies] 

Heavy clashes broke out on the second day of the siege of the Chadian capital by rebels Sunday, till when the Chinese embassy had helped evacuate more than 200 Chinese nationals from N'Djamena.

Army helicopters and troops loyal to President Idriss Deby struck back at the rebels besieging the presidential palace.

The helicopters bombed the rebels who, armed with pickup trucks mounted with cannon and machine guns, fought tanks and foot soldiers in a bid to dislodge the president from his heavily-defended palace in the west of the city.

Foreign and local residents in the dusty capital said heavy weapon and machine-gun fire erupted before dawn near the palace, not far from two hotels where several hundred foreigners were sheltering. Smoke was also seen rising in the sky.

The rebels battled their way into the capital from the north on Saturday with a column of 300 vehicles.

But they appeared unable to take full control of the sprawling city on the banks of the Chari river.

The Chinese embassy has helped move the Chinese nationals to neighboring Cameroon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Sunday.

Only nine embassy staff and some other Chinese nationals remain in N'Djamena, and the foreign ministry is trying to evacuate them too, Liu said.

China Daily's call to the Chinese embassy Sunday went unanswered. The Chinese newspaper Legal Evening News got through to the embassy earlier, and reported that gunfire could be clearly heard over the phone.

Heavy street fighting is raging in N'Djamena, and the embassy building's windows shook when tanks fired, the Legal Evening News quoted embassy officials as having said.

The Chinese nationals who have been evacuated include 195 employees of companies like PetroChina, CGC Overseas Construction, ZTE and Huawei, and two Taiwan compatriots. They are in Cameroon now, and were escorted by Cameroonian troops to hotels in the north of the country, the Chinese Embassy in Yaounde said.

Cameroon has been very cooperative and the country's senior officials have called the Chinese ambassador over the phone to offer help, a Chinese counselor in Cameroon surnamed Wu said.

The staff of the Chinese Embassy in Cameroon have arranged for food for those evacuated from Chad Sunday afternoon and visited them at the hotels, Wu said. The embassy has booked rooms in three more hotels to accommodate more Chinese nationals who are likely to evacuated be later.

The Chinese consulate in Douala, Cameroon's largest city and top aviation hub, has prepared to book air tickets for the evacuated compatriots to return to the motherland, Wu said.

Former colonial ruler France, which has a military contingent in Chad, resumed the evacuation of French and foreign nationals. Paris said French planes had carried more than 500 French and other foreigners to Gabon, and about 400 more were still waiting to be evacuated.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin said yesterday the situation in Chad is still "uncertain". "I believe President Deby is in charge of his troops," Morin told Reuters Television. He, however, told the French media that the chief of Deby's armed forces had reportedly been killed.

(China Daily February 4, 2008)

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