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Tight security as Cameroon awaits symbolic anglophone 'independence'

AFP

Buea (Cameroon) (AFP) - Police patrolled empty streets in Cameroon's restive anglophone belt as a separatist group made a symbolic proclamation of independence on Sunday, a day after a young man was shot dead by security forces.

In Buea, the main city in the English-speaking southwest, the streets were mostly deserted as security forces patrolled the streets including the area where the separatists were expected to gather, an AFP correspondent reported.

"I can't go out, they asked us to stay home," said one city resident who identified herself just as Nancy.

"Everyone is afraid... it's not good," added another resident Thom.

A young man was shot dead by security forces on Saturday in the nearby town of Kumba, known as a rebellious city since the start of protests by the anglophone minority last November, sparking clashes between security forces and the local population.

"They fired at him during a security operation," a nurse who requested anonymity told AFP. The incident was confirmed by a security source and several local residents contacted by phone.

The majority of Cameroon's 22 million people are French-speaking, while about a fifth are English speakers.

- 'Firing real bullets' -

The legacy dates back to 1961, when a formerly British entity, Southern Cameroons, united with Cameroon after its independence from France in 1960.

The anglophone minority has long complained about disparities in the distribution of Cameroon's oil wealth.

Cameroon's long-serving president, 84-year-old Paul Biya, took to social media Sunday to condemn "all acts of violence, no matter where they come from or who is responsible".

One of the leaders of the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), Joshua Osih, told AFP the security forces were "firing real bullets at the protesters" but stressed that he was not a supporter of the secessionist movement.

On Sunday October 1, the anniversary of the official reunification of the anglophone and francophone parts of Cameroon, the anglophone separatists wanted to make a symbolic proclamation of independence for Ambazonia, the name of the state they want to create.

"We are no longer slaves of Cameroon," said Sisiku Ayuk, who describes himself as the "president" of Ambazonia.

""Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory," he said on social media on Sunday.

On Thursday, Cameroonian authorities announced a temporary curb on travel and public meetings across the Southwest Region, adding to a curfew in the neighbouring Northwest Region, also English-speaking.

The European Union called on all sides to be responsible and "respect the rule of law and avoid any act of violence."

Since November, the anglophone minority has been protesting against perceived discrimination, especially in education and the judicial system, where they say the French language and traditions are being imposed on them, even though English is one of the country's two official languages.

Most anglophone campaigners want the country to resume a federalist system -- an approach that followed the 1961 unification but was later scrapped in favour of a centralised government run from the capital Yaounde. A hardline minority is calling for secession.

Biya opposes any such changes.

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