Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gunmen blockade Cameroon bridge ahead of election


DOUALA, Cameroon{AP} -- Gunmen wearing military uniforms and carrying signs opposing Cameroon's longtime ruler blockaded a major bridge early Thursday, shooting at police for several hours in an attack less than two weeks before the presidential election.
Sporadic gunshots still could be heard in the area hours later, and heavily armed soldiers have been deployed across the city of Douala to search vehicles. President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982, faces 22 challengers in the Oct. 9 poll.

Eyewitness Itah Robert said Thursday's early morning gunfight took place on the mile-long Wouri Bridge, which is used by some 35,000 vehicles a day.
"A fierce exchange of gunfire ensued and one of the gunmen plunged into the River Wouri," he said. "It is not clear if he drowned."

One witness told The Associated Press that the gunmen had placards that read: "Paul Biya Must Go At All Costs" and "Paul Biya Dictator."
Biya, who is considered one of Africa's remaining strongmen, is widely expected to win another seven-year term next month. In 2008, he removed term limits from the constitution, provoking nationwide unrest that left 40 dead according to government statistics.

The International Crisis Group expressed concern that public frustration with the government could spark election-related violence in Cameroon.

Earlier this year, the government ordered cell phone companies to suspend mobile services for Twitter after people used the social networking site to report the mass deployment of troops to prevent a "Drive Out Biya" march.
Many poor Cameroonians blame Biya for the the prevalent poverty gripping this nation of more than 20 million people, citing political stagnation and resource-plundering by his colleagues.

Biya was bequeathed power in 1982 by what was then Cameroon's sole political party. Since then, he has introduced modest democratic reforms, allowing multiple political blocs and some increased personal freedoms.
In 1992, he won Cameroon's first-ever multiparty presidential elections, but the ballot was internationally denounced as fraudulent. The opposition accuses his party of rigging elections to ensure his victory.

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