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Cameroon votes counted with leader expected to stay

10 october 2011, 14:57
0
A Cameroonian leaves a voting booth at a polling station in Yaounde on October 9, 2011. ©AFP
A Cameroonian leaves a voting booth at a polling station in Yaounde on October 9, 2011. ©AFP
Votes were being counted Monday in Cameroon's presidential election, with incumbent Paul Biya almost assured of extending his 29-year rule amid low turnout in a vote the opposition called a "mess", AFP reports.

An otherwise peaceful election was marred when two military police were killed in the unstable southwestern Bakassi region, the interior ministry said.

The west African country's 78-year-old leader sought a sixth term against 22 other candidates, after a campaign generally greeted with indifference in the country where many are mired in crippling poverty.

"Turnout is frankly very weak," Narcisse Arido, an international election observer from the Central African Republic, said in the port city of Douala, the country's economic capital, without giving detailed figures.

A polling station head, who asked not to be named, said that Cameroonians were "not interested because they have the impression that the other candidates are unable to hold their own against Mr Biya".

In Douala and Yaounde, AFP journalists saw no sign of queues at voting centres.

The two military policemen were killed by "armed men who have not yet been identified" in Bakassi's Isanguele district, Minister Marafa Hamidu Yaya told reporters as votes were being counted across the country.

"These brave elements of our security forces were on a mission to secure the electoral process," the minister said.

"All steps are being taken to find and apprehend their killers."

After polling stations closed at 1800 GMT, counting began in a Douala school building by candlelight.

Lists from seven polling stations in the district indicated low turnout, with 11 out of a total 163 registered voters turning out at one, 56 of 203 at another and 19 of 106 at a third.

Polling had made a slow start across the vast nation, with delays -- sometimes of hours -- reported at many of the 24,000 voting stations.

"It is a complete mess," Social Democratic Front (SDF) vice president Joshua Osih said.

The main opposition groups claimed the ballot was rigged from the start, lamenting the level of control Biya exercises over the electoral commission.

But the president defended the poll body.

"I cannot say that there is such a thing as perfection but its performance has been positive. I am simply asking for the people's indulgence over possible irregularities," he said, adding: "There was never any intent to cheat."

Nicknamed "the Sphinx", Biya has managed to keep a tight grip on power for three decades, despite spending much of his time abroad.

He skipped most of the campaign, apparently not concerned that any rival could mount a serious challenge, but made a rare appearance in his native south to wrap up the campaign on Saturday.

His most high-profile rival in Sunday's election is SDF leader John Fru Ndi. Some observers argue, however, that the charismatic perennial runner-up has lost some of his aura in recent years.

Anicet Ekane, an opposition candidate running for the Manidem party, tried to inspire the electorate with a reference to Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, whose suicide in December last year sparked the Tunisian uprising.

"Before Bouazizi immolated himself in Tunisia, we didn't think such a thing was possible. We are very confident that something historic will happen tonight," Ekane said as he cast his ballot in Douala.

"The regime has opted to put Cameroonians with their backs up against the wall ... There is always a stage when the red line is crossed and this triggers previously unimaginable things," he warned.

Rap star General Valsero, an outspoken critic of Biya, called on people to return blank voting slips, saying none of the candidates deserved their support.

"The opposition can't get itself together," he said Saturday, accusing the leading figures of selfishness for having failed to unite their forces.

More than 6,000 election observers were accredited to monitor voting, held under tight security. Seven million of the country's 19.4 million citizens were eligible to vote.

Biya has faced calls to quit from home and abroad, with accusations that he has plunged the country into stagnation and corruption.

A third of Cameroonians do not have access to clean, running water and electricity, and one in four lives on less than 1.1 euros ($1.5) per day.

The Supreme Court now has 15 days to publish the results.

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