After Week of Unrest, Cameroon Appears Calmer

March 1st, 2008 by admin

March 2, 2008
After Week of Unrest, Cameroon Appears Calmer

By WILL CONNORS
The New York Times

LAGOS, Nigeria — Calm appeared to be returning to Cameroon after rare violent demonstrations inspired, in part, by frustrations over the president’s recent announcement that he wanted to amend the Constitution to allow him to run for another term.

President Paul Biya has been in office for 25 years and critics say he has allowed too few freedoms in his efforts to maintain stability.

Up to 20 people were killed last week after riots in the capital, Yaoundé, the main port city of Douala and several western towns, according to news reports, but it was unclear how they died. The reports said that government soldiers had fired bullets and tear gas at demonstrators.

The government has said that fewer than 20 people were killed and blamed “delinquents” bent on looting and opposition politicians trying to foment unrest for some of the violence.

The unrest began last weekend when a transport union went on strike in Douala to protest high fuel prices and angry youths took to the streets to protest fuel and food costs. The strike ended Wednesday, but the violent demonstrations continued and spread to Yaoundé, and quickly took on a political edge.

“It’s the expression of multiple frustrations among the Cameroonian people,” Joshua Osih, vice president of the main opposition group Social Democratic Front, told Agence France-Presse. “The trouble runs deep.”

By Friday, soldiers were patrolling the streets of the capital for the first time in years, shops were reopening and taxis were operating again.

In January, Mr. Biya, president since 1982 and prime minister for seven years before that, said he would amend the Constitution, which was written in the 1990s and dictates a two-term limit on presidents, so that he could run for another seven-year term in 2011 elections. He was last elected in 2004.

“For some people the objective is to obtain through violence what they were unable to obtain through the ballot box,” the president said in a speech last week.

The government closed a popular radio station Thursday after listeners called in to complain about the president’s handling of the protests, according to the media watch group Reporters Without Borders.

On Friday the United States Embassy in Cameroon issued a warning encouraging all Americans to evacuate. As violence eased, the statement was amended to urge Americans to exercise strong caution and to avoid unnecessary travel.