Cameroon arrests separatists for illegal protest

YAOUNDE, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Authorities in Cameroon arrested over 40 members of the separatist Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) on Saturday for organising an illegal gathering in the English-speaking region of the Central African state, an official said.

The official at the administrative head of Buea, in the South West region, who requested not to be named, said the SCNC members were arrested for “organising an unauthorised protest,” and “disturbing public order,”.

The official said several other SCNC members had sought refuge at the Nigerian consulate in Buea, while security forces have been deployed in the town.

The SCNC, which seeks the independence of the region, considers Oct. 1 as the symbolic date when it was denied the option to secede in a referendum that united the minority British Cameroon with the former French Cameroon in 1961.

Some in the English-speaking minority complain they have been marginalised since.

Cameroon is under heightened tension ahead of an Oct. 9 presidential poll which incumbent leader Paul Biya, one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years, is widely expected to win.

The SCNC has called for a boycott of the poll. On Thursday, gunmen dressed in military fatigues opened fire in Cameroon’s commercial capital Douala in an apparent protest against Biya.

The oil-producing nation in the Gulf of Guinea has been relatively stable since independence, unlike many of its neighbours. (Reporting by Tansa Musa; Writing by Bate Felix)