GENEVA: Around a hundred protesters rallied in Geneva on Saturday against Cameroon’s President Paul Biya (pix), who is staying in one of the Swiss city’s top hotels.
Police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who protested for several hours close to the Intercontinental Hotel, where the 88-year-old leader has been staying since at least Sunday.
The hotel is regularly used by visiting foreign leaders and was where US President Joe Biden stayed before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month. Biya is an occasional private visitor.
A bitter independence struggle by English-speaking rebels has been raging in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest (NOSO) regions since 2017.
Members of the anglophone minority in the country’s westernmost provinces have long complained of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority and Biya, in power for 38 years.
From 2017, their protests devolved into a bloody conflict.
Saturday’s demonstration in Geneva was initially authorised and then banned, with police fearing that that protest could spill over.
Road restrictions were imposed around the Intercontinental and the nearby square outside the United Nations headquarters in the city.
- ‘Biya get out’ -
Demonstrators were faced with a line of police officers in riot gear blocking the road from the square to the hotel.
They held up home-made signs saying, “Switzerland supports dictator Biya”, “Paul Biya: eternal dictator”, “We don’t want you in Switzerland anymore as long as NOSO is at war”, and “Biya get out”.
One man wore a t-shirt reading “Stop genocide on Cameroonians”.
Another man was pulled down by police after attempting to scale the gates of the UN.
Swiss news agency ATS reported that protesters later tried several times to force their way through the police cordon and threw eggs at officers.
The police then deployed water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas to clear the demonstration, forcing the protesters to disperse into several parks.
Two people were lightly injured and taken to hospital for checks, while one person was arrested, ATS said.
Since Biya’s visit began, several small groups of opponents have been broken up by the authorities.
Three people were arrested early in the week, while a dozen others were detained on Friday.
In Cameroon, UN and international aid groups say that since the unrest erupted in 2017, both army troops and anglophone rebels have committed abuses and crimes against civilians.
More than 3,500 people have been killed and over 700,000 have fled their homes to escape the conflict. — AFP