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Calm Returns to Cameroon, Burkina Faso Following Protests

Soldiers patrolled the streets in Cameroon's two main cities Friday, restoring order after the worst violence the oil-producing country has seen in more than 15 years. At least 17 people are believed to have been killed when demonstrations over price hikes and a government proposal to eliminate term limits for the president led to clashes between police and protesters. Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

Local journalist Ronald Meyong says the streets of Cameroon's capital, Yaoundé, are calm on Friday. He says things are back to normal in the markets, stores have re-opened, and government workers are back in their offices.

Meyong says things also calmed down considerably in Cameroon's main commercial city, Douala. He says there are still pockets of resistance in some neighborhoods in Douala, but the army and security forces are working to subdue any remaining protests.

On Wednesday, Cameroon President Paul Biya went on state television to say he would use "all legal means" to restore order.

He sent soldiers to patrol the streets and reinforce police who had been clashing with protesters since Saturday.

But protesters were angered by the speech, and the unrest spread to at least two more western towns on Thursday. Protesters said Mr. Biya failed to address the problems: higher fuel and food prices, and anger over a proposed amendment to the constitution to eliminate term limits for president and allow Mr. Biya to stand for office again in 2011. He has been president for more than 25 years.

In Burkina Faso, similar demonstrations over the rising prices of basic necessities also led to clashes between police and protesters. There, too, order had been restored Friday.

Analyst for British-based Chatham House research institute, Daniel Balint-Kurti, says Burkina Faso and Cameroon share more than just rising costs of living.

"They are both ex-French colonies, they both have presidents who have been in power for an awful long time, both of those presidents have been backed by France," he said. "Neither of them are democratic leaders."

Mr. Biya, formerly the prime minister, became president in 1982 after the then-president resigned. Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Campaore, became president in a 1987 coup. Both have since stood for and won re-election.

Both Burkina Faso and Cameroon have been fairly stable in recent decades, despite unrest in many of their neighbors.

But Balint-Kurti says he worries greater unrest is in store for Cameroon, if the government does not begin to address its people's concerns.

"The trouble is that when there is no democracy, when people feel that power is monopolized by a certain clique, often by a certain ethnic group, then you just store up rancor," he said. "And one day, that explodes. You can keep things stable for 10, 20 years, but it does not mean in the long term you are solving any of the country's problems.

He says the proposed elimination of term limits is an issue that has proved volatile in African countries in the past.