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Cameroon Set to Lift Limits on Presidency


Plans to lift presidential term limits in Cameroon are being sped through the country's national assembly, angering the opposition. President Paul Biya has been in power a quarter century, and the change would allow him to run again in 2011. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

The national chairman of Cameroon's main opposition, the Social Democratic Front, John Fru Ndi says in addition to eliminating term limits for the president, the proposed constitutional changes would also protect Mr. Biya if he leaves office.

"It is a bill that gives him unlimited power and more seriously, Cameroonians cannot charge him for anything he did while he was in power so he is covered," he said. "So he can kill, he can loot, he can do anything. When he leaves government, you will not charge him."

The National Assembly's constitutional laws committee adopted the bill Tuesday, making minor changes to the government's proposal.

One change reduces the presidential term from seven to five years. But more than 20 amendments proposed by the opposition were rejected. A provision lifting the current term limit was left intact. The bill could be passed by the ruling party dominated parliament in the coming days.

Recent elections in Cameroon, both legislative and presidential, have been marred by accusations of fraud.

Fru Ndi says Cameroonians now face a future of impoverishment on resource-rich land.

"See, under Mr. Biya, he has destroyed the economy, destroyed governance, you have embezzlement, you have corruption, you have bribery, you have poverty," he said. "People in the midst of plenty are suffering."

A Cameroonian political analyst says such views are extreme. Narcisse Mouelle Kombi says the constitutional change is being made within the strict parameters of the law.

He says it also gives more sovereignty to the people of Cameroon, since it lifts a restriction on who they can choose as president. He also says nothing has been said whether Mr. Biya will run again.

The 75-year-old Mr. Biya recently said term limits go against principles of democracy.

Recent anti-government protests in Cameroon led to hundreds of people being arrested, most of them teenagers.

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