Reuters International

DAKAR (Reuters) - Amnesty International called on Chad on Friday to release four political activists ahead of elections in which President Idriss Deby, a key ally of the West in the fight against Islamist militants, is tipped to extend his 26-year rule.

Civil rights activists Mahamat Nour Ahmed Ibedou, Younous Mahadjir, Nadjo Kaina Palmer and Celine Namadji were arrested two weeks ago and charged with seeking to disturb the peace by calling for anti-government demonstrations.

"The response of the security forces and the severe charge against the activists are likely to set alight an already tense situation" before the polls on Sunday, Amnesty's Central Africa researcher Ilaria Allegrozzi said in a statement.

The activists' trial opened in the capital N'Djamena on Thursday amid tensions.

At least two people were injured when clashes erupted between police and protesters who tried to block the path of the vehicle which was driving the activists back to jail, according to Amnesty.

Chad has one of the region's most capable militaries and has played a central role in Western-backed efforts to take on Islamist militants, including al Qaeda affiliates and Nigeria's Islamic State-linked Boko Haram.

N'Djamena also hosts the headquarters of a French military operation aimed at stamping out militants across the loosely policed, arid Sahel band.

(Writing by Marine Pennetier; Editing by Joe Bavier/Jeremy Gaunt)

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