18, July 2021
Around a hundred protesters demonstrated in Geneva on Saturday against Cameroon President Paul Biya, who is staying in one of the Swiss city’s top hotels.
Demonstrators rallied close to the Intercontinental Hotel, where the 88-year-old leader has been staying since at least Sunday.
The hotel is regularly used by visiting foreign leaders and was where US President Joe Biden stayed before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month. Biya is an occasional private visitor.
A bitter independence struggle by English-speaking rebels has been raging in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest (NOSO) regions since 2017.
Members of the anglophone minority in the country’s westernmost provinces have long complained of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority and Biya, in power for 38 years.
From 2017, their protests devolved into a bloody conflict.
Saturday’s demonstration in Geneva was initially authorised and then banned.
The police warned on Wednesday that as had happened two years ago during Biya’s last visit, when pro- and anti- demonstrators clashed, the protest could spill over and “cause inconvenience”.
The police urged local residents to close their windows and avoid moving around in the area.
Traffic restrictions were imposed around the Intercontinental and the Place des Nations square in front of the main United Nations building in the city.
Demonstrators were faced with a line of police officers in riot gear blocking the road from the square to the hotel.
They held up home-made signs saying, “Switzerland supports dictator Biya”, “Paul Biya: eternal dictator”, “We don’t want you in Switzerland anymore as long as NOSO is at war”, and “Biya get out”.
One man wore a t-shirt reading “Stop genocide on Cameroonians”.
Another man was pulled down by police after attempting to scale the gates of the UN.
Since Biya’s visit began, several small groups of opponents have been dispersed.
Three people were arrested at the start of the week, while a dozen others were detained on Friday.
In Cameroon, since the unrest erupted in 2017, the rebels have extended their violent attacks against police and soldiers to civilians.
UN and international aid groups say both army troops and anglophone rebels have committed abuses and crimes against civilians. In the past four years, more than 3,500 people have been killed and over 700,000 have fled their homes to escape the conflict.