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Gunfire in Cameroon's anglophone regions deters voters on polling day

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© AFP/Getty Images A heavily armed escort sees off a truck carrying polling materials to Buea, in southwestern Cameroon.

By Ruth Maclean West Africa correspondent, Brenda Kiven in Bamenda, and Reuters

Voters in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon went to the polls on Sunday amid gunfire and bloody confrontations between the country’s military and separatists.

The country’s 85-year-old president, Paul Biya, was running for a seventh term in the central African country where anglophone rebels have been fighting for secession from the francophone majority, encountering a brutal crackdown by government forces.

Many anglophone Cameroonians have already fled their homes, but most of those remaining in the regions’ largest towns, Bamenda and Buea, were too scared to leave their houses to cast their votes. Although heavily guarded by the military, gun battles went on for hours in parts of the two towns.

“We have been on the floor since the morning due to the gunshots. I felt like the bullets were passing all over my head. Now I know I cannot vote again,” said Allen Fru, an electrician in Bamenda.

The separatists declared that the election was “banned” in the regions that last year had symbolically declared the independent republic of Ambazonia.

More than 20 “Amba” boys, as the separatists are locally called, were reported parading through the streets of Bamenda to intimidate voters. Two suspected separatist fighters were shot dead by the military after the early Sunday attacks on polling centres.

Earlier, the national elections body, ELECAM, had selected over 2,300 polling stations in the north-west for this presidential election, but due to security threats, they were merged to 74 polling centres.

About 528,000 people were registered to vote in the north-west on Sunday, although most polls inspected were receiving few or no voters. Some voters, who had earlier showed interest in the elections, said that following the gunshots, they wouldn’t risk it.

Some officials did not dare to venture out to man polling stations either.
Cameroon’s president Paul Biya casts his ballot. The incumbent is Africa’s oldest president, having stayed in power for 36 years.Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

“I didn’t go to the polling station because I weighed the options and I saw that I wasn’t quite secured,” said Sylvia Bih, the chair of a polling station in Bamenda.

“My family too, didn’t quite approve that I take on such a delicate task, following the gunshots this morning and other realities on the ground. I live quite far from the polling station. The distance is long and anything can happen to me along the way. So I stayed off.”

Government officials in Bamenda cast their votes at a station in the administrative headquarters, a highly secured area. Prime minister Philémon Yang voted there despite being initially registered to vote in his home village.

ELECAM said those whose villages were inaccessible and insecure could vote in the anglophone regional headquarters, but failed to provide same opportunities to the internally displaced persons in French-speaking towns of the country.

Following continuous attacks from separatists, the local administrator declared a curfew from 6am to 6pm.

The opposition, whose main candidate is Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front, remained largely divided and weak.

Only 6.5 million of the country’s 24 million people were registered to vote, and between this, the anglophone crisis and Biya’s record – he won in 2011 with 78% of the vote in a “flawed” election, according to the US state department – the incumbent is almost certain to win.

“The likelihood of his victory is beyond reasonable doubt. I am confident that the game is already done,” government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said.

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World - U.S. Daily News: Gunfire in Cameroon's anglophone regions deters voters on polling day
Gunfire in Cameroon's anglophone regions deters voters on polling day
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