One protester was killed in Cameroon as police and gendarmes put down protests against the veteran President Paul Biya, the country’s main opposition party said on Tuesday, while accusing security forces of laying siege to their leader’s home.
Police and gendarmes fired tear gas and water cannon to break up protests in the commercial hub of Douala, calling for an end to Biya’s near 40-year rule, Reuters witnesses said.
The rally was called by 87-year-old Biya’s closest rival, Maurice Kamto, of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement party, who hopes to spark a popular revolt as seen in other African nations such as Mali and Burkina Faso.
Kamto’s home was “in a state of siege”, surrounded by tanks and heavily armed gendarmes, said Joseph Ateba, a senior member of Kamto’s party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC).
Ateba said hundreds of people had been arrested across the country, including the MRC’s treasurer Alain Fogue and Kamto’s spokesman Olivier Bibou Nissack.
“He is accused of rebellion and hostility to the homeland, among other things,” said Jeanne Édith Bibou, Nissack’s wife.
The police referred requests for comment to the Interior Ministry, which could not be immediately reached.
Security forces had packed the streets of Cameroon’s largest cities, including the capital Yaounde, in recent days in anticipation of the demonstrations, raising concern among residents of a return to the kind of violent crackdowns on protests in recent years.
Hundreds of people gathered in the Ndokoti commercial district of Douala chanting “Biya must go!”. Police, camped out in trucks at major intersections, chased some of the protesters across the neighbourhood and into their houses, witnesses said.
Long a bastion of calm in a turbulent region, Cameroon has descended into chaos in recent years as Biya fights Islamist insurgents in its far north and separatist rebels in the west.
Biya is also under pressure from political activists in urban centres who want change, say he has stolen elections and is the mastermind of a series of deadly backlashes against those who oppose him.
The government denies those charges.
Biya won a 2018 election that Kamto said was fraudulent.
Kamto was jailed for nine months in 2019 on insurrection charges following a protest. He was later pardoned, but his arrest galvanised the opposition and has led to sporadic protests ever since.