File picture: Reuters

Johannesburg – Cameroon’s military continues to deploy heavily in the country’s English-speaking regions, the death toll has risen to 17, streets are deserted and social media in the Anglophile areas has been blocked by the government, AP reported on Tuesday.

"The worrying escalation witnessed over the weekend has now reached a crisis point," said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International's Lake Chad region researcher.

The bloody confrontations began on Sunday when tens of thousands of protesters demanding independence from the country’s French-speaking majority defied security forces bans for public gatherings in the English speaking regions.

The protests were planned to coincide with the anniversary of Anglophone Southern Cameroon’s independence from Britain in 1961.

French-speaking Cameroon gained its independence from France in 1960. The two sides joined together in October 1961 to form the Republic of Cameroon.

Protests at the perceived marginalisation under President Paul Biya’s 35-year rule began at the end of 2016.

Those dead included five prisoners were killed by soldiers early Sunday morning after the jail they were in caught fire, the cause of which is unknown.

Two others prisoners were taken to hospital with bullet wounds.

A demonstrator was also killed, and two others wounded in Kumbo, after they raised the blue and white flag of the Ambazonia separatist movement, while a woman was also killed in her home.

Prior to the outbreak of clashes between protesters who defied the ban and security forces, the Cameroon authorities ordered a three-day lockdown in the restive areas banning gatherings of more than four people and ordering the closure of all social and business gathering points.

Residents reported fears over the continuing restrictions, in addition to blocking social media platforms such as WhatsApp.

However, in the French-speaking regions, political parties, lawmakers and the government organised rallies denouncing the separatist groups.