Archive for February, 2008

Negotiations Sought After Deadly Riots

February 29th, 2008 by admin

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Negotiations Sought After Deadly Riots
The Washington Post, 2/29/08

Authorities in the central African country of Cameroon appealed Thursday for negotiations to defuse the worst anti-government riots in more than a decade, but an opposition leader said President Paul Biya was out of touch after 25 years in power.

Officials estimated that as many as 20 people had been killed in nearly a week of protests in several cities, including the main port of Douala and the capital, Yaounde, over high fuel and food prices and an effort by Biya to prolong his tenure in office.

Douala and Yaounde, which were paralyzed by rioting and looting Wednesday, were tense but relatively calm Thursday. Police and soldiers patrolled the streets, but most businesses were closed and public transport was not operating.
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Reuters: Cameroon govt accused of muzzling media over riots
Fri 29 Feb 2008, 12:12 GMT
By Tansa Musa

YAOUNDE, Feb 29 (Reuters) – Cameroon’s main journalists’ union accused the government on Friday of trying to silence media coverage of anti-government riots after police shut down a popular radio station that aired criticism of the president.

Magic FM 94, a private radio station in the capital Yaounde, was closed down by armed gendarmes on Thursday after callers to the station criticised President Paul Biya for his handling of a wave of protests that have swept the central African country.

Officials estimate up to 20 people, possibly more, have been killed in violent riots this week that gripped the capital, the main port city of Douala and several western towns. They were the worst anti-government protests in Cameroon in over 15 years.

The protesters have been demanding cuts in fuel and food prices, but have also expressed anger over a bid by the reclusive, veteran president to prolong his 25-year rule.

In a broadcast to the nation late on Wednesday, Biya, who is 75, offered no concessions to the protesters but said the authorities would use “all legal means” to restore order.

Soldiers and police have been deployed in the streets of Yaounde and Douala — which were reported calm on Friday — as well as in other riot-hit towns in the west.

The closure of Magic FM 94 followed the shutting down of another private radio, Equinoxe, in Douala on Tuesday.

Equinoxe’s sister TV station was closed by authorities last week after its coverage of growing opposition to an announcement early this year by Biya that he might change the constitution to stay in power when his term ends in 2011.

The head of the National Cameroon Journalists’ Union, Jean Marc Sobboth, condemned the measures against private media.

“This is simply a case of transferred aggression, because I cannot understand why the authorities have decided to close these radios only at a time when the country is traversing a serious crisis,” he told Reuters.

OPPOSITION ANGER

Magic FM 94 journalist Martin Nzogo, who was conducting the call-in programme when police interrupted on Thursday, said “people were calling in from all parts of the town to denounce the president”. The gendarmes turned off the station’s power and carried off studio equipment and transmitters, he said.

Biya said in his New Year message last month that his government would “re-examine” the constitution after what he said were popular calls for him to stay on past 2011. The constitution requires Biya to step down that year.

Biya’s party won an overwhelming parliamentary majority last year in elections the opposition dismissed as a sham. This could allow it to change the constitution.

Earlier this month, Equinoxe TV broadcast an interview with John Fru Ndi, leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Front, in which he accused Biya of wanting to rule for life.

Like many other TV and radio stations in Cameroon, Magic FM 94 and Equinoxe were operating without broadcasting licences while media authorities considered their applications.

Stations are generally allowed to continue operating during the lengthy application process under what the authorities have termed ‘administrative tolerance’. (Additional reporting by Talla Ruben in Doula; Writing by Pascal Fletcher)
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Another president who won’t go
Feb 28th 2008 | DOUALA
The Economist

Many Cameroonians are angry because their president refuses to retire

THE MAN who has presided over Cameroon for 25 years touts a simple slogan: “Paul Biya for peace”. But it no longer rings true. On February 24th and 25th, in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial capital on the Atlantic coast, protesters lit fires on the streets, shooting broke out, and looters ran amok. Taxi drivers went on strike and many other people stopped work too. Shops and petrol stations were ransacked, cars burnt. Black clouds of smoke and the noise of gunfire enveloped the residential area along the main road out of Douala towards the capital, Yaoundé, where police later tear-gassed stone-throwing youths who had set up burning barricades.

The reason for the mayhem was the president’s heavy hint, in an end-of-the-year address, that he might stay on for a third term of another seven years; the present constitution, which came into force in 1996, allows for only two terms. Since then, many Cameroonians, usually a quiet lot, have taken to the streets. Mr Biya has yet to make a clear bid to change the constitution but the issue has been widely aired in the newspapers, on television, and on street corners.

Mr Biya has reacted angrily. Several people who organised demonstrations against him have been arrested. Douala’s governor has banned any more rallies. Earlier, the minister of communications closed one of the country’s most popular private television stations for running too many programmes candidly discussing the prospect of a third term for Mr Biya. A musical artist, known as Joe La Conscience, was prevented from walking the 320 kilometres (200 miles) to Yaoundé from the town of Loum, north of Dowala, singing songs against the proposed constitutional change.

Many strikers say they are merely protesting against the high cost of fuel. But the problem runs a lot deeper. Mr Biya’s bid for another term has unleashed a rare outbreak of public discussion and dissent at a time when the country has fallen heavily into debt. Transparency International, a Berlin-based lobby that measures corruption, says it has become “endemic” in Cameroon. Elections in the last few years have been so patently rigged that few voters bother to turn up.

Still, the opposition is weak, though Mr Biya excoriated “the apprentice sorcerers in the shadows”. More than 200 parties have sprung up since multi-party politics was allowed in 1990. Garga Haman Adji, a former minister in Mr Biya’s government who is now in opposition, says that many opposition parties have been infiltrated and bought out by Mr Biya’s party. In any event, the 75-year-old president has been badly rattled.
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Army patrols capital after days of unrest in Cameroon
2/28/08

YAOUNDE (AFP) — Troops were out in force on the streets of the Cameroonian capital Yaounde Thursday, after days of violence that President Paul Biya has blamed on an orchestrated campaign to overthrow him.

The violence has left at least 17 dead since Saturday, according to an AFP toll.

Soldiers took up positions at the city’s main junctions and guarded petrol stations, the targets of vandalism in the past days’ unrest.

Taxis and buses were not running in the capital, a day after the end to a transport strike observed by lorry and taxi drivers, though there were a few cars on the streets.

The strike was called off after the government agreed to cut the price of petrol: it was the price rise that had provoked the strike.

There was no sign of the gangs of youths who had clashed with riot police on Tuesday and Wednesday, into the small hours of Thursday morning.

The most recent clashes centred around the city’s university district, where student leaders accused riot police of having launched an “expedition” after a speech by Biya late Wednesday.

Students told AFP that soldiers had wrecked residence halls and injured several students.

Biya, in a televised address, blamed the unrest on an orchestrated campaign by “apprentice sorcerers in the shadows”.

He added: “For some … the objective is to obtain by violence what they have not achieved through the ballot box,” Biya said on state television.

“What we’re looking at here is the exploitation … of the transport strike for political ends.”

Biya said he would use all legal means to re-establish order.

The situation was also calm in the western port of Douala, the country’s economic capital and a stronghold of opposition to Biya.

On Wednesday, gunfire was heard as protestors clashed with riot police there despite the end of the strike.

Witnesses reported sporadic gunfire overnight Wednesday.

Calm had also returned to the northwestern city of Bamenda, the stronghold of the main opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), after unrest late Wednesday following Biya’s speech.

“What’s happening in Cameroon has nothing to do with a simple strike against a rise in fuel prices,” Joshua Osih, vice-president of the SDF, said Wednesday.

“It’s the expression of multiple frustrations among the Cameroonian people. The trouble runs deep,” Osih added, pointing out that most of those engaged in vandalism were unemployed people under 30.

In mid-January, the authorities in Douala banned rallies and demonstrations there because of political opposition to a constitutional change Biya wants to make to enable him to run for another term of office.

Biya, 75, has been in power since 1982, with the opposition, spearheaded by veteran John Fru Ndi and his SDF, accusing his government and ruling party of plunging the country into corruption and poverty.

Biya said last month that a current constitutional bar on a third elected presidential term “sits badly with the very idea of democratic choice.”

Protest banners carried in several towns since have combined protests at the cost of living with calls for Biya’s resignation.
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Unrest paralyses Cameroon

By Matthew Green in Limbe, Cameroon

Published: The Financial Times
February 28 2008 03:01

Protests paralysed Cameroon on Wednesday as anger over plans to change the constitution to extend Paul Biya’s rule as president beyond the 30-year mark exploded into violence.

Both China and the US are seeking to deepen economic and military ties with Cameroon, strategically placed between west African oil producers Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

But the worst unrest in the country since the early 1990s has exposed the depth of frustration over rising costs of basics such as fuel, flour and cement as well as Mr Biya’s plans to prolong his stay in power.

Mr Biya, who took over in 1982 and won a seven-year term at the last presidential elections in 2004, is obliged by the constitution to step down at the next polls in 2011. But he signalled two months ago that he would consider changing the law to allow him to run again, dismaying opponents who accuse him of favouring a venal elite while doing little to lift the country of 18m out of poverty.

The crisis has revealed the potentially destabilising impact of rising global oil prices on Africa, where many countries have seen fuel import bills soar.

Plans by the government to pass some of the cost on to consumers by raising the price of subsidised petrol sparked protests by taxi drivers in the commercial centre Douala, crippling the country’s main port.

Cameroon pumps about 85,000 barrels a day of oil and the port is a lifeline to landlocked Chad and Central African Republic. The unrest has spread to the capital, Yaounde, and towns in the south.

Mr Biya has deployed troops for the first time in a decade to contain the unrest as stone-throwing youths blocked main roads and burned tyres. Media reports said at least eight people had been killed, though some residents said the toll could be higher.

Mr Biya on Wednesday night struck a defiant tone in a televised address to the nation, disappointing those who had hoped he would take a more conciliatory approach. “To those who are responsible for manipulating the youth to achieve their aims, I want to tell them their attempts are doomed to fail. All legal means will be brought into play to ensure the rule of law,” he said.

“What we are seeing is an accumulation of grievances and anger and frustration,” Fru Ndi, national chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Front, told the Financial Times.