Rebels renewed their assault on the capital of this oil-rich central African country Monday, and tens of thousands of people fled as gunfire crackled and artillery shells exploded across the city.
The third day of fighting threatened to further destabilize an already violent swath of Africa that is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees and borders Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region.
Hours after the rebels went back on the attack following an overnight retreat, the U.N. Security Council authorized France and other nations to help Chad's government. France, with 1,800 soldiers backed by fighter jets in its former colony, indicated it was ready to take on the insurgents.
Before the council acted, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France and the European Union could send troops with U.N. approval.
There were fears of a wider regional conflict. Chadian officials have repeatedly accused Sudan's government of supporting the rebels, and one senior general threatened to attack Sudan in retaliation. Sudan's leadership denied involvement.
The fighting in N'Djamena was believed to have taken a heavy toll. Bodies lay on the streets, and the hulks of burned out tanks and other vehicles stood abandoned.
Some 1,000 to 1,500 insurgents entered the city early Saturday, reportedly trapping President Idriss Deby in his palace. Government soldiers launched a fierce counterattack Sunday.
The rebels are a coalition of three groups whose leaders include Mahamat Nouri, a former Chadian diplomat who defected 16 months ago, and Timan Erdimi, a nephew of Deby. They accuse Deby of corruption and embezzling millions in oil revenue.
U.S. EXIT: The United States has abandoned its embassy in Chad, evacuating all but four diplomats at the N'Djamena airport amid the fighting.