YAOUNDE  (AFP) – Armed men dressed as soldiers fired into the air and stopped traffic in south Cameroon on Thursday, demanding the departure of long-serving President Paul Biya ahead of a controversial poll, reports said.

The men fired their weapons at the main bridge in Douala, the economic capital of the west African nation that will hold a presidential election on October 9, according to media reports and law enforcement sources.

Cameroon Radio-Television (CRTV) described them as members of an unidentified armed group which held up traffic on Wouri Bridge for two hours. A local official and other sources said just one man was responsible however.

The governor of Littoral province, Fai Yengo Francis, said in a statement: “At about 6:00 am (0500 GMT) an unidentified individual, armed and dressed in military uniform, disrupted traffic on Wouri bridge.

“Thanks to the swift reaction of public order forces, under the supervision of the administrative authorities, the assailant was pushed back and traffic resumed.”

The governor said there were no casualties and reassured locals that efforts were being made to track down the gunman.

An unnamed taxi driver said: “I saw an armed soldier on the bridge. He had blocked the traffic and was asking people not to pass. He had a placard which I saw with ‘Paul Biya dictator'”.

CRTV meanwhile reported exchanges of fire between a group of men and the defence forces, “which forced the defeated assailants into the water,” the station said.

The outburst comes as tension builds in the country ahead of the elections which 78-year-old Biya, in power since 1982 and one of Africa’s longest-standing heads of state, plans to contest.

On Tuesday the country’s main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, (SDF) denounced what it said were irregularities in the organisation of the poll.

“There is a whole mountain of irregularities,” Evariste Fopoussi, the SDF’s pointman during the campaign, told AFP, citing double entries or missing names in electoral rolls as well as delays in preparation.

Civil society movements accuse Biya of having locked down the electoral system to ensure that he is returned to power.

Cameroon’s Supreme Court has validated 23 candidates for the presidency, including Biya and John Fru Ndi, the veteran opposition candidate of the SDF.

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