Some 80 people, mostly school children, kidnapped in Cameroon

Above, soldiers patrol a street in Bamenda where separatists are fighting to form a breakaway state. (AFP)
Updated 06 November 2018

Some 80 people, mostly school children, kidnapped in Cameroon

Gunmen kidnapped 79 school students on Monday in an English-speaking region of Cameroon where separatists are fighting an armed campaign for independence, security and government sources said.
The abductions, the worst incident so far in 13 months of unrest, came just a day before longtime President Paul Biya was to be sworn in for a seventh term in office.
“Seventy-nine pupils and three supervisors” were seized, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary, who is also government spokesman, told AFP.
A government official said the three comprised the school’s principal, a teacher and a driver.
A source close to the school said the abducted students “are mainly boys.”
A six-minute video seen by AFP, but which could not be immediately confirmed independently, showed 11 boys apparently aged about 15 giving their identity and name of the school in English, and adding that they were abducted by the “Amba Boys” — the name for anglophone separatists.
The first mass abduction in Cameroon follows two major such incidents in neighboring Nigeria, where the militant group Boko Haram snatched more than 200 schoolgirls from the Borno state town of Chibok in April 2014.
Some 107 girls have since been released or found, but the extremist group abducted scores more schoolgirls from neighboring Yobe state in February this year.
The students kidnapped Monday were enrolled at the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda, capital of Cameroon’s Northwest Region — one of two regions hit by attacks by anglophone militants that have met with a brutal crackdown by the authorities.
“The search for the hostages has been launched — every man has been called in,” the government source said, speaking after a crisis meeting.
Elsewhere in the region, a high-ranking local official was also seized, a security official told AFP.
The school’s website says that the student body numbers more than 700, drawn from “all the religious and linguistic origins of Cameroon.”
The kidnappings coincide with an upsurge of political tensions in the majority French-speaking country.
It comes after elections on October 7 in which 85-year-old Biya, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for 35 years, was credited with 71.3 percent of the vote.
The polls however were marred by allegations of widespread fraud, low voter turnout and violence.
Around a fifth of Cameroon’s 22 million people are English-speaking — a minority whose presence dates back to the colonial period.
Cameroon, once a German colony, was divided between Britain and France after World War I.
The French colony gained independence in 1960, becoming Cameroon. The following year, the British-ruled Southern Cameroons was amalgamated into it, giving rise to the Northwest and Southwest regions.
But resentment at perceived discrimination at the hands of the francophone majority, especially in education and the judiciary, began to build.
In 2016, demands for greater autonomy grew but have been rebuffed by Biya.
As radicals took the ascendancy, the anglophone movement declared the creation of the “Republic of Ambazonia” in the Northwest and neighboring Southwest Region on October 1, 2017.
No country has recognized the self-declared state.
The separatists have gunned down troops and police, boycotted and torched schools and attacked other perceived symbols of the Cameroonian state.
They have decreed a boycott of schools, saying that the French-speaking education system marginalizes anglophone students.
At the start of the school year in September, several secondary schools were attacked, a headmaster was killed and a teacher was badly mutilated.
The authorities have responded with a massive crackdown by police and troops.
At least 400 civilians have been killed this year as well as more than 175 members of the security forces, according to a toll compiled by non-governmental organizations.
The conflict has seen a resurgence in the Northwest region after several months of calm while fighting was worse in the Southwest region.
More than 300,000 people have fled the violence, many of them living hand-to-mouth in the forests, and some across the border into Nigeria.
In the October 7 election, turnout was a meagre five percent in the Northwest and 15 percent in the Southwest — but Biya won more than two-thirds of the vote in both regions.


US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

Updated 43 min 29 sec ago

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

  • On Friday the US set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours
  • More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began

WASHINGTON: The United States passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday and broke its own record for daily new infections for the second day in a row, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, as Covid-19 surges days before the country chooses its next president.
The US, which has seen a resurgence of its outbreak since mid-October, has now notched up 9,034,295 cases, according to a real-time count by the Baltimore-based school.
On Friday the country set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours, breaking the record of 91,000 it had set just one day earlier.
With the virus spreading most rampantly in the Midwest and the South, hospitals are also filling up again, stretching the health care system just as the nation heads in to flu season.
"We are not ready for this wave," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University school of public health, warned on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.

COVID-19 tally by the John Hopkins University of Medicine as of October 30, 2020.

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, imposed a curfew this week to protect "overwhelmed" health care workers and began setting up field hospitals.
But a judge's attempt to shut down non-essential businesses in the city has been challenged by the mayor and the state's attorney general, the Washington Post reported.
Midwestern state Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital in recent weeks, and hospital workers in Missouri were sounding warning bells as cases rise.
Hospitals in the western state of Utah were preparing to ration care by as early as next week as patients flood their ICUs, according to local media.
The pattern of the pandemic so far shows that hospitalizations usually begin to rise several weeks after infections, and deaths a few weeks after that.
More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began, the Hopkins tally showed as of Friday, with the daily number of deaths creeping steadily upwards in recent weeks also -- though at present it remains below peak levels.
For months public health officials have been warning of a surge in cases as cooler fall weather settles over the US, driving more people indoors.
As the weather changes, New York and other parts of the northeast, which were the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring but largely controlled the virus over the summer, were reporting a worrying rise.
Some epidemiologists believe that Covid-19 spreads more easily in drier, cool air.
Rural areas, which in the spring appeared to be getting off lightly compared to crowded cities, were also facing spikes with states like North Dakota charting one of the steepest rises in recent weeks.
The state is so overwhelmed that earlier this month it told residents they have to do their own contact tracing, local media reported.
With four days to go until the election, Donald Trump was battling to hold on to the White House against challenger Joe Biden, who has slammed the president's virus response.
"It is as severe an indictment of a president's record as one can possibly imagine, and it is utterly disqualifying," Biden said Friday as the toll passed nine million.
Trump downplays the virus even as the toll has been accelerating once more, holding a slew of rallies with little social distancing or mask use.
He has repeatedly told supporters that the country is "rounding the curve" on Covid infections.
But Americans, wary of crowded polling booths on Election Day as the virus spreads, are voting early in record numbers.