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Cameroon votes in presidential polls as conflict rages

AFP  |  Yaound 

Cameroonians are voting in crunch presidential polls on Sunday, with seeking a seventh term against a backdrop of unprecedented violence in the country's English-speaking regions.

The vote follows a last-minute opposition unity bid to dislodge the 85-year-old incumbent, one of Africa's longest-serving rulers.

Two leading opponents have formed the first electoral union since 1992, but talks between the array of other opposition parties to create a "super-coalition" to deny another seven years were apparently fruitless.

In the Bastos public school in the capital Yaounde, where will later cast his vote, voting was brisk throughout the morning.

"I feel proud," said Patrick, 38, an after voting. "I want the next to consolidate what we have achieved in I want the elections to pass off peacefully, that's my only hope for the polls."

Voters in the queue were surrounded by a heavy security presence including members of the presidential guard, deployed ahead of Biya's arrival.

Cameroon's 6.5 million eligible voters are casting their ballots as violence rages in the anglophone southwest and northwest, which have been rocked by a separatist insurgency launched a year ago against the mainly francophone state.

The violence has claimed the lives of at least 420 civilians, 175 members of the security forces and an unknown number of separatists, according to the (ICG) think-tank.

After voting got underway on Sunday, security forces shot dead three suspected separatists who had allegedly been firing at passersby from a motorcycle in Bamenda, the main city in the northwest region, a said.

And in Buea, capital of the southwest, three separatists of the so-called Ambazonia Republic were gunned down on Friday while a was executed by soldiers on Thursday, according to witnesses.

The far north is also mired in insecurity, as Nigeria-based Boko Haram fighters mount attacks despite efforts by the US to equip and train to battle the jihadists.

In a rare coordinated political manoeuvre, a key opposition frontrunner, Maurice Kamto, agreed late Friday to a unity deal between his Movement for the Rebirth of (MRC) and the People's Development Front (FDP), meaning he will stand for both parties.

It is the first tactical tie-up since stood as the sole opposition candidate in 1992 in polls that his supporters say he won, but allege were manipulated to hand victory to Biya.

However it is unclear whether the eleventh-hour deal will sway the vote, which runs until 1700 GMT Sunday.

"This alliance, though interesting for the vitality of Cameroonian democracy, may have arrived too late," said Hans de Marie Heungoup, an ICG

Kamto's MRC has warned that a "massive fraud" is underway to secure a Biya win.

"We're not preparing for war, but wherever there is fraud, there will be a firm response," said MRC

But the government hit back, apparently in response to the MRC, saying that it would "not tolerate any before, during or after the presidential vote".

The opposition has long accused the authorities of supporting Biya. But despite the ubiquity of Biya's posters, he has been virtually invisible during the campaign, except for a single event last weekend.

It is unclear if polling will proceed normally across Cameroon's English-speaking regions, where separatists hold a "significant" amount of territory, according to the ICG, and have threatened to disrupt the vote.

A team of election officials received a military escort as they travelled to the outskirts of Buea on Sunday, according to AFP journalists.

The government said it was possible there were "troublemakers" in the anglophone regions.

"But the vast majority of residents are ready and willing to vote," said

Authorities have imposed a raft of security measured including a ban on inter-regional and sealing the borders.

A total of 246,000 people have fled their homes in the southwest and 25,000 have left the country altogether for Nigeria, according to UN figures.

It is thought that the displaced will struggle to cast ballots, which could favour Biya as anglophones have traditionally backed the (SDF) party of candidate

Results must be posted within 15 calendar days of the poll.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, October 07 2018. 18:00 IST