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Douala burns as taxi strike turns into general rioting

Douala city center taken before the latest riots.
(Elizabeth Dickinson/IRIN)

Residents of Douala awoke to heavy gunfire on 25 February. Columns of thick black smoke rose over the city as youths burned buses, cars and tyres, blocking off major arteries in the city.

There were also reports of widespread looting.

“We can’t leave our homes,” a man in Akwa, an area in the city centre, told IRIN. “I live near a school and can see teachers sending home all students that arrive. Rioters are occupying other schools in the area."

At least two dead bodies have arrived at the city morgue with gunshot wounds to the head, a journalist told IRIN.

IRIN also saw people with serious gunshot wounds being carried to a hospital.

The rioting appears to have been sparked off by a taxi strike planned for 25 February. Many people say they are sympathetic with drivers’ complaints of rising fuel prices and the cost of living.

IRIN saw no vehicles in the city centre other than those belonging to security forces.

Political tensions have been high in recent days with the government attempting to push through constitutional reforms that would remove restrictions on the number of times that Cameroon’s long-time leader Paul Biya can be re-elected. He has been in power since 1982.
An unauthorised demonstration took place on 23 February in Newtown, a suburb near the airport, in which police reportedly fired tear gas and water cannons at a crowd of several hundred people. One protestor was killed, according to government officials, but eye witnesses said at least one other youth also died.

The following day, Sunday, the city was calm until the evening when gunfire erupted again near the airport.

By Monday morning rioting had broken out throughout the city.

Accounts of the violence

One of the main bridges to the city has been blocked by burning tires, according to an eyewitness living nearby. “We see smoke everywhere and hear constant gunfire,” she said.

A national radio station reported that many government buildings were on fire, including a town hall and one of the finance ministry buildings.

Photo: Elizabeth Dickinson/IRIN
The rioting appears to have been sparked off by a taxi strike planned for 25 February

The main road between Douala and the capital, Yaounde, is blocked by burning tires and IRIN saw a number of petrol stations being looted along that road.

Youths have also reportedly broken into at least one major retail store.

In the city centre, IRIN saw large gangs of youths moving through the streets with no police in sight. But elsewhere police were seen arbitrarily arresting civilians.

“I saw two people in front of my office being stopped by the police and arrested for no reason,” said Madeline Afite, a human rights advocate for NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture.

People catching flights out of the city had to walk to the airport. IRIN saw young men attempting to enter the airport compound. Some were armed and appeared to be shooting at the police. Police also appeared to be returning fire.

“I think what is happening is that youths saw recent events in Kenya and are now trying to copy,” Mary Mballa, a mother in Newtown, told IRIN.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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