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Titan of Cameroon’s opposition politics John Fru Ndi dies at 81

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YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Veteran Cameroonian opposition leader John Fru Ndi, who for decades fought to topple long-standing president Paul Biya at the ballot box, has died aged 81, his party said.

Fru Ndi, who dominated the opposition in the Central African country for a generation and was arrested and kidnapped for his politics, had been suffering from a long illness, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) said in a statement overnight.

“It is with sadness that we announce the transition into eternal glory of John Fru Ndi on June 12, 2023, at 11:30 p.m.,” it said.

An English-speaking businessman from Cameroon’s northwest region, he formed the SDF, the first opposition party in the bilingual Central African country, which is dominated by its French-speaking majority.

He ran for president several times, including in 1992 when he narrowly lost Cameroon’s first free presidential elections. Fru Ndi said the vote had been rigged and he was placed under house arrest as riots swept opposition strongholds.

Later, as Biya’s grip on power tightened, Fru Ndi secured fewer votes, according to official figures.

In recent years, a violent separatist uprising has rocked the English-speaking western regions. Fru Ndi was kidnapped twice in 2019 by gunmen after his party refused to endorse secession.

Biya, meanwhile, has ruled the central African country since 1982. He has repeatedly secured landslide election wins amid opposition claims of fraud.

(Reporting by Amindeh Blaise Atabong; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Edward McAllister and Conor Humphries)

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