Security forces in Cameroon arrested about 100 people during days of protests over alleged discrimination against minority English-speaking people, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary and a senior security source said.
Bakary said vandals who mingled with the demonstrators smashed shops in the north-western town of Bamenda during the protests which saw one person killed.
A second security source said the demonstrators also wanted independence for Cameroon’s two English speaking regions and the departure of President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982 and is one of Africa’s longest serving rulers.
French is spoken in eight of Cameroon’s 10 regions and English in the north-western and south-western regions.
Bakary said reinforcements in Bamenda were helping security forces return the situation to normal. He said the protests posed no threat to Biya.
“Unions were complaining of being a bit marginalised and said they were discriminated against because of English,” Bakary told Reuters.
“There are some politicians using the situation as a tool for leverage to pursue their own interests,” he said, noting government was open to dialogue and ministers had met for talks to work out how to resolve the problem.
Reuters television footage of Bamenda on Tuesday showed security forces scouring the streets for protesters, several barricades and one avenue blocked by flames in the market area.
A woman walking with two young children stopped in her tracks at the sound of a gunshot. It also showed residents fleeing as riot police and soldiers marched through almost deserted streets.
It was not immediately possible to contact residents or union members – who had organised the protests – in the town.