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Cameroon opposition leader freed from prison

October 6, 2019

Thousands of supporters welcomed opposition leader Maurice Kamto as he left prison after nine months behind bars. In a surprise move, President Paul Biya had ordered a halt to military proceedings.

Cameroonian opposition leader Maurice Kamto waves as he sits in the back of a car
Image: AFP

Cameroon's main opposition leader, Maurice Kamto, addressed hundreds of supporters after leaving the Yaounde prison on Saturday, following President Paul Biya's request to prosecutors to drop charges against him.

"We are here today thanks to your constant support," he said.

"I saw you even when you couldn't see me," he said, adding that "if some people think that our liberation means the end of our struggle, they have understood nothing."

Kamto has claimed he is the real winner of last year's presidential election, despite official results putting the 86-year-old Biya far ahead. Biya has ruled Cameroon for nearly 37 years and is currently in his seventh term.

Read more: Cameroon separatist: 'I don't call myself a fighter, I defend myself'

Maurice Kamto drives away after his release from prison
Hundreds of supporters greeted Kamto upon his release from prisonImage: AFP

Pressure on Biya

Kamto and hundreds of members of his Cameroon Renaissance Movement had been arrested for protesting the outcome of the October 2018 vote. Kamto was put on trial before a military tribunal on charges that included insurrection, rebellion and hostility to the motherland.

In a surprise move this week, however, Biya ordered prosecutors to drop charges against a number of opposition leaders, including Kamto.

Kamto's release is seen as an attempt to have a national dialogue on deep divisions in the African country. The veteran president faces a separatist movement among Cameroon's Anglophone population. The fighting and the government's subsequent crackdown have claimed over 3,000 lives within the last two years. In another conciliatory move this week, Biya ordered 333 separatists to be released.

On Saturday, Biya's aides said he was determined to find "ways and means to resolve peaceably the crises and conflicts confronting our country."

The country's foreign partners, including the US and the European Union, had called for Kamto to be freed.

The 65-year-old Kamto has worked as head of the UN International Law Commission and as his country's legal representative at the International Court of Justice.

dj/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa)

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