UPDATE 1-Cameroon police fire water cannon to break up protests amid fears of new crackdown

23 Sep 2020 / 01:24 H.

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    By Josiane Kouagheu

    DOUALA, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Cameroon police and gendarmes fired tear gas and water cannon on Tuesday to break up protests in the commercial hub of Douala calling for an end to President Paul Biya's near 40-year rule, Reuters witnesses said.

    The rally was called by Biya's closest rival, Maurice Kamto, of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement party, who hopes to spark a popular revolt as seen in other African nations such as Mali and Burkina Faso.

    Police arrested Kamto's spokesman, Olivier Bibou Nissack, at his home, said Jeanne Édith Bibou, Nissack's wife.

    "He is accused of rebellion and hostility to the homeland, among other things," Bibou said.

    Security forces have packed the streets of Cameroon's largest cities, including the capital Yaounde, in recent days in anticipation of the demonstrations, raising concern among residents of a return to the kind of violent crackdowns on protests in recent years.

    Hundreds of people gathered in the busy Ndokoti commercial district of Douala on Tuesday morning chanting "Biya must go!". Police, camped out in trucks at major intersections, chased some of the protesters across the neighbourhood and into their houses, witnesses said.

    Long a bastion of calm in a turbulent region, Cameroon has descended into chaos in recent years as Biya fights Islamist insurgents in its far north and separatist rebels in the west.

    Biya is also under pressure from young political activists in urban centres who want change and say the 87-year-old has stolen elections and is the mastermind of a series of deadly backlashes against those who oppose him.

    The government denies those charges.

    Biya won a 2018 election that Kamto said was fraudulent.

    Kamto was jailed for nine months in 2019 on insurrection charges following a protest. He was later pardoned, but his arrest galvanised the opposition and has led to sporadic protests ever since.

    (Reporting By Josiane Kouagheu; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Bate Felix, Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie)

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