Unemployed and students riot against Cameroon single party

Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 4 April 1991

STUDENTS and unemployed workers clashed with police in the Cameroon capital Yaoundé yesterday during a demonstration demanding rapid political reform.

Witnesses in Yaoundé said up to 3,000 people marched through the city at around 9 am and set up barricades when riot police used teargas to disperse them. At least one bus was set on fire as the police launched baton charges against demonstrators.

Diplomatic sources in Yaoundé said: “The demonstration was sparked off by unemployed people who have been given the push because of the economic situation. Three supermarkets were looted, and official reports put the violence down to vandalism.” By midday the city was said to be calm, though riot police and soldiers still patrolled the streets.

Yaoundé’s governor, Namvou Benoit, said: “We are restoring order. We are not arresting people. You see, order is returning.”

Yesterday’s demonstration is the second in two days. A march by 2,000 people, mainly students, on Tuesday marked the resurgence of vocal public demands for rapid political change in the country, which has been ruled as a one-party state by President Paul Biya since 1982. Five hundred students were arrested. At yesterday’s demonstration, students demanded that those arrested on Tuesday be released.

Large demonstrations last year forced the government to accept multi-party democracy, and there are now 11 legal opposition parties.

However, President Biya last week refused to hold a national conference which would bring all-sides together to decide on a timetable for elections. Instead, the ruling Democratic Party (CPDM) will retain power during a planned election campaign.

Cameroon has suffered from widespread corruption and fluctuations in the price of oil, its main export, which have led to economic decline and rising unemployment, particularly in its two cities, Yaoundé and Douala.

Since a 1984 coup attempt by the former President, Ahmadou Ahidjo, President Biya has used the excuse of national security to stamp out all forms of opposition and establish a complex network of police informers.



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