Swiss police have used force to disperse around 250 people who were demonstrating against the presence of Cameroonian President Paul Biya at the InterContinental Geneva hotel.
The protesters gathered early on Saturday afternoon in a square near the European headquarters of the United Nations and near the hotel, waving Cameroonian flags and anti-Biya placards and posters.
When the crowd headed for the hotel, the considerable police presence around the hotel pushed them back with tear gas and a water cannon.
“We Cameroonians demand that Cameroon enters the modern era of democracy, having lived for 37 years under the senile dictatorship of Paul Biya,” said Robert Wanto, head of the council for the Cameroonian diaspora, who has been living in exile in France for almost 30 years.
“This dictator has taken his habits to the InterContinental hotel where he’s squandering billions of our francs while the country is economically sick. We cannot accept it.”
Police spokesman Silvain Guillaume-Gentil said officers fired tear gas after a group of protesters attempted to break through police lines to reach the hotel. He said several protesters were affected by the chemicals but nobody was injured or arrested.
Earlier in the week the Cameroonian embassy in Bern had warned that Cameroonians living in Europe were preparing for a “violent” demonstration in Switzerland on Saturday.
Geneva police had told AFP it expected a “significant” mobilisation which would not be allowed to get within 500 metres of the hotel. The building was also protected on Saturday by members of the Biya’s own security service.
Minor clashes with small groups of protesters occurred in the hotel lobby this week.
On Thursday the Swiss government summoned the Cameroonian ambassador to protest against a reported assault on a Swiss public television journalist by presumed members of Biya’s security service.
Several men, thought to have been Biya’s bodyguards, had run out of the hotel to chase demonstrators away. The RTS journalist who remained in front of the hotel filming was manhandled by the men, who took his bag with his mobile phone, wallet and equipment, RTS said. This was later returned to him after three hours of negotiations involving the Swiss police. The journalist has filed a complaint against the men involved.
Cameroon, led by 86-year-old Biya since 1982, is plagued by multiple tensions. On Wednesday Switzerland said it was acting as a facilitator in the crisis in north-western and south-western parts of the country.