Anti-government riots hit Cameroon capital

Anti-government riots spread to Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, on Wednesday and police in the port of Douala also fired tear gas at protesters angry over high fuel and food prices. The riots were the worst in Cameroon for more than 15 years.

After four days of unrest that killed at least six people in western towns, including Douala, rioters blocked streets in Yaoundé with barricades of burning tyres and timber, witnesses said.

Police, backed by at least one helicopter, used tear gas in an attempt to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators.

Some chanted slogans against President Paul Biya. Biya’s announcement last month that he might seek changes in the Constitution to prolong his 25-year rule over the Central African oil producer has angered many opposition supporters.

“Biya has gone too far, he must go,” shouted one demonstrator.

In the commercial capital of Douala, hundreds of protesters demanded bigger cuts in fuel and food prices after authorities made small fuel-price reductions to try to end rioting in the west.

Police in Douala fired tear gas as the marchers, estimated at about 2 000, shouted “We’re fed up” and called for basic goods to be sold more cheaply, witnesses said.

Residents of Douala said the city was paralysed.

“Shops and stores remain closed, taxis are not back on the streets, not even motorcycle taxis.
A few private car owners who ventured out found their windscreens shattered and they returned home,” businessman Ernest Karngong said.

Cameroon’s government and union leaders reached an agreement late on Tuesday to end a taxi drivers’ strike, which triggered the rioting and widespread looting in Douala—a hotbed of opposition against Biya—and other western towns.

The government agreed to cut the price of a litre of gasoline to 594 CFA francs ($1,36) from 600. Similar small reductions were agreed for other fuel products like kerosene.

“We want an overall reduction in prices,” one marcher in Douala said.

The riots followed similar protests against the high cost of living in other West African countries after soaring oil prices pushed up prices for energy products and basic foodstuffs.

Biya announced eight weeks ago he might change the Constitution to stay in power when his term ends in 2011. Critics say Biya (75) could use his party’s majority in Parliament to make the constitutional modifications.—Reuters

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