At least 100 people were arrested in Cameroon following days of agitation against the use of French in English-speaking parts of the country. Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said on Wednesday (23 November) that hooligans mingled with demonstrators and attacked shops in the northwestern town of Bamenda during protests.
Massive demonstrations were held in the city as English-speaking minorities have long complained of discrimination and the imposition of French in courts and schools. One person was reportedly killed in the protests on 22 November, while several others are being treated with bullet wounds at a city hospital.
A senior security source told Reuters that protesters were demanding for the independence of two English-speaking regions – the northwest and southwest – which are dubbed 'Anglophone' areas. There are eight other regions in the country are predominantly French-speaking.
The source added that demonstrators were also calling for President Paul Biya to quit office, who has been in power since 1982, and is one of the longest serving leaders in Africa.
However, Bakary said that the language protests posed no threat to the president and security forces had brought the situation under control in the city.
"Unions were complaining of being a bit marginalized and said they were discriminated against because of the (English) language," Bakary said.
"There are some politicians who are using the situation as a tool for leverage to pursue their own interests," he added and stressed that the government was open to hold talks to resolve the issue.
French and English are official languages in Cameroon, which was formed after colonial powers – Britain and France – withdrew from areas it controlled until the 1960s. It was first colonised by Germany before the First World War.
Meanwhile, the Cameroon Teachers' Trade Union (Cattu) called a sit-in protest on 22 November in the northwest and southwest to oppose the employment of "Francophone" teachers – who speak only French – in English-speaking schools.
Protests began in both the regions in early November and some lawyers alleged that security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.