YAOUNDE - Cameroon has deployed troops to crack down on protesters calling for the release from jail of 150 opposition party members, including their leader Maurice Kamto, who says he won the October presidential election, not long-serving President Paul Biya. Kamto has been in jail for more than two months and his supporters say he should be unconditionally released.
It was a quiet but tense Saturday morning in some neighborhoods of Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, as residents went about their daily activities, watched by combat-ready police. Half a dozen officers have been deployed around the headquarters of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement party of Kamto, who remains in jail and insists he won the presidential election on Oct. 7, even though official results give a decisive victory to incumbent Biya.
Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji said security forces are there to protect the population from the opposition political party that he said wants to see the country in chaos.
He said even though President Biya has kept Cameroon democratic and peaceful, with freedoms and liberties, authorities will not accept protests carried out in disrespect of the law and they will not tolerate those who want to use violence to make their voices heard. He said Cameroonians are peace-loving people who reject the violence some opposition parties want to bring.
Nji said Saturday the government banned protests organized by the opposition MRC party until April 13 because the action is provocative and intended to create an uprising in a country that already has Boko Haram terrorism to contend with on its northern border with Nigeria. He pointed out that Cameroon also has suffered from carnage that has spilled over from the neighboring Central African Republic on its eastern border and has had to deal with the separatist crisis that killed at least 1,000 people in the English-speaking regions of the bilingual country that also has French as its official language.
Nji said April 6, which the MRC chose for its protests, remains a painful day for Cameroonians because it is the anniversary of a 1984 coup attempt to oust Biya from power. He said he has instructed all 10 regional governors to arrest anyone who protests.
MRC Party Secretary General Christopher Ndong says members are mobilized and ready to demonstrate their support for jailed members of their party and Kamto, who claims his victory was stolen by Biya.
"Do you expect us to fold our hands and stand. Professor Maurice Kamto won the 2018 presidential election and the president that was supposed to be [in power] was the one caught and locked up. The government does not want him to take over power. Our liberties are infringed, our right to freedom of speech infringed. It is not because the government is clamping down on us that will make the population fear," Ndong said.
The protesters had asked for authorization to march and asked the government to solve the crisis in the English-speaking regions that has gone on for three years.
Pierre Hubert Mbida of the Cameroon Citizenship Movement said by refusing to authorize the protest and deploying security forces to clamp down on protesters, Cameroon is simply confirming that it disrespects people's rights and freedoms.
He said the Cameroon government is abusing public liberties and people's freedoms and expresses joy only when its supporters sing praises about its management of public affairs, governance and its long serving leader Biya. He said it is funny that when people go to the streets to complain that they lack water to drink, they are described as unpatriotic citizens who are a menace to public order. He said it is intolerable that for quite some time now, Cameroon has continued to recruit soldiers to protect its leaders.
Biya, who has led Cameroon for 36 years, won 71.3 percent of the vote, far ahead of Kamto's 14.2 percent, according to official results of the Oct. 7 poll.
Police arrested Kamto and his supporters more than two months ago after days of peaceful protests turned violent in Yaounde and three other cities.
Kamto is charged with sedition, insurrection and inciting violence in Cameroon and its embassies, including in Paris and Berlin.