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Cameroon opposition leader charged with 'rebellion'

The former government minister was arrested in the economic capital Douala on 28 January after his MRC party organised protests in cities against last October's election result, which they say was rigged.

FILE: In this file photo taken on 30 September 2018, Maurice Kamto, leader of the Cameroonian opposition party Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) addresses supporters during a campaign rally for the presidential elections in Yaounde. Picture: AFP.

DOUALA - Cameroon opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who says he was cheated out of the presidency in elections last year, has been charged with "rebellion" and "insurrection", one of his lawyers said Wednesday.

The former government minister was arrested in the economic capital Douala on 28 January after his MRC party organised protests in cities against last October's election result, which they say was rigged.

The prosecutor's office of the Yaounde military court filed the charges against Kamto, who was transferred to a prison in the capital during the night, according to lawyer Emmanuel Simh.

Simh, who is also vice president of Kamto's Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) party, said 28 of Kamto's supporters were also charged.

About 100 others supporters are to appear on Wednesday before the military court, which will decide whether to charge them.

Kamto has said he was the rightful winner of presidential elections, which were won by the West African country's veteran leader Paul Biya.

Biya, 86, secured a seventh consecutive term in the polls, which the MRC has slammed as an "electoral hold-up".

Kamto won 14% of the vote to place second, according to the official figures.

The vote was marred by incidents of violence especially in the country's two English-speaking provinces, which have been badly hit by clashes between separatists and Cameroon troops for more than a year.

MRC supporters turned out in several towns and cities on 26 January to dispute the official election result. The demonstrations were suppressed by the police and at least six protesters were injured.

The MRC has said that around 200 people arrested during the protests are still being held in Yaounde.

Some of them, including MRC treasurer Alain Fogue, have launched hunger strikes.

ESCALATING CRACKDOWN

The European Union earlier this month condemned Cameroon for the "disproportionate use of force" in dispersing the protests.

"Finding a solution to the challenges faced by the country can only be achieved through dialogue in a calm and inclusive atmosphere where fundamental rights and the rule of law are respected," EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.

Human rights groups last month condemned Kamto's arrest and called for his immediate release.

Amnesty International warned the arrest of Kamto and his staff "signals an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists in Cameroon".

"Instead of taking steps towards improving the country’s human rights record, we are witnessing the authorities becoming less and less tolerant of criticism. This must stop," said Amnesty's West and Central Africa director Samira Daoud.

Biya has ruled the West African country since 1982 with support from the army, government administrations and the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (RDPC) that he created in 1985.

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