YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Combat-ready troops were deployed in Cameroon's capital Saturday as supporters of opposition party leader Maurice Kamto defied a ban on protests against the outcome of the 2018 presidential election.
Kamto and his backers contend he won the Oct. 7 election and that his victory was stolen by long-serving President Paul Biya. Kamto was to participate in the protests for the first time since Biya ordered his release from prison, but he reportedly was being held at his house under guard by government police.
Hundreds of supporters of Kamto's Cameroon Renaissance Movement Party (CRM) demanded that the government withdraw its anti-riot police from the esplanade of the Ahmadou Ahijo Stadium in Yaounde so they could listen to the message that Kamto had for them.
Among the protesters was Etienne Tankeu, 39, a businessman who was arrested with Kamto on Feb. 28 in Douala and detained in Yaounde with Kamto until Biya ordered their release.
Tankeu said he did not understand why each time the CRM has wanted to organize peaceful protests, the government has threatened them with charges of insurrection, revolt and hostilities against the state.
Court proceedings halted
Kamto and hundreds of his supporters were freed Oct. 5. That's when Biya ordered an end to court proceedings against CRM members following calls from delegates to the national dialogue he held to address the country's crises.
The Saturday protest in Yaounde was to be the first public meeting between Kamto and his supporters since he was released from custody.
Christopher Ndong, CRM secretary-general, told VOA in a telephone interview that he and some party officials, including Kamto, were prohibited by the police from leaving a home where they met ahead of the protests. He said that despite a heavy police presence, they were still committed to meeting their supporters, who have been eager to hear from their leader.
"We cannot let our fundamental rights be trampled upon,” he said. “We are not afraid, because what we are doing is within the law and it is our right. So you see, this is a government that is confused. They are in fact doing everything with impunity. We cannot be afraid, because we are working and acting upon our rights."
Similar protests in the southern towns of Sangmelima and Ebolowa were banned by the government. Kamto's supporters defied the ban in Sangmelima, Biya’s hometown, and a confrontation Friday between CRM followers and those of Biya's CPDM party left at least six people injured.
Advice to Kamto: Stand down
Rene Emmanuel Sadi, Cameroon’s minister of communications, said Kamto was not relenting from wanting to destabilize Cameroon. He said Biya won the election in a landslide and that Kamto should accept the result or face the consequences as mandated by Cameroon laws.
"We believe that Mr. Kamto and some warmongers among his supporters have failed to take full measure and to grasp the profound meaning of the presidential clemency welcomed by the entire national and international community," Sadi said.
The election results showed Biya winning with 71 percent of the vote. His strongest challenger, Kamto, was a distant second with 14 percent.
If arrested again, Kamto could be charged with sedition, insurrection and inciting violence. Those are the same charges leveled against him when he defied a government ban on protest marches and was arrested in Douala.