Dar es Salaam city centre and Zanzibar’s Stone Town yesterday were turned into battle grounds as anti- riot police fought running battles with Muslim demonstrators protesting the detention of Muslim cleric Sheikh Issa Ponda
In Zanzibar,yesterday’s chaos was a continuation of violence that started on Wednesday following the disappearance of Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed who is a leader of an Islamic revival group, Uamsho, in Zanzibar.
The police move in Dar es Salaam was subsequently joined by Tanzania People Defense Forces (TPDF) combatants who were called in to help contain violence that seemed to overpower the crack Field Force Unit (FFU).
Even then the police had earlier managed to disband an illegal demonstration planned by Islamic followers which was intended to take place immediately after the afternoon prayers in the city of Dar es Salaam.
The demonstration was ostensibly aimed at putting pressure on the government to release the Secretary General of the Council of Muslim organizations Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda and 49 others who were arraigned in court in Dar es Salaam on Thursday.
Sheikh Ponda appeared in court following his arrest on Tuesday on allegations of having led his followers to invade private property belonging to Agritanza Company Limited, situated at Chang’ombe Marcus in Dar es Salaam. Ponda and his followers alleged that the Muslim Council of Tanzania, Bakwata, sold the property to the company illegally.
All the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges before Resident Magistrate Stuwart Sanga. Earlier, the principal state attorney informed the court that the accused conspired to commit an offence contrary to section 386 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA). He had placed a certificate of urgency before the court to bar bail for the first accused (Ponda).
During the fracas with the rowdy Muslims who defied police orders to disperse, the anti-riot police had to fire teargas canisters in a bid to disperse them at Kariakoo central business district where several people were injured. Scores of mostly youthful demonstrators were taken to central police station for interrogation.
A random spot check by The Guardian on Saturday reveal that the Kariakoo area yesterday literally turned into a war zone as the municipal militiamen joined forces with the riot police to help contain the situation, during which several suspects were driven to central police station.
Several demonstrations were also planned for city’s three major suburbs of Kinondoni, Magomeni, Kigogo, and Msimbazi centre.
The Guardian on Saturday visited Kariakoo area later in the evening and found the area calm, but most shops remained closed.
Eyewitnesses said most shoppers reacted quickly to early warnings when rowdy Muslims started to sing the Islamic slogan ‘Taqbir’ and all closed businesses to avoid loss to property.
A convoy of soldiers belonging to the Tanzania people’s Defense Forces (TPDF) also patrolled the streets, signifying seriousness of the matter, an unusual sight among city dwellers.
Jacob Urio, a shoe-shine operator at Kariakoo area confirmed that the presence of TPDF soldiers caused fear and tension among people around – almost all of them armed with a machine gun.
However, unconfirmed reports speculated that the soldiers had come from the Kawe military camp and put ‘on standby’ just in case the police failed to contain the rowdy Muslim fundamentalists.
However, up to the time we went to press, efforts to reach the Special Police Zone Commander for Dar es Salaam region, SCP, Sulleman Kova for comments about the fracas proved futile. But his secretary told this reporter later afternoon that her boss had left the office since 0830 in the morning.
In the meantime, Mwinyi Sadallah reports from Zanzibar that fracas continued for the third day in succession, resulting in destruction as the Field Force Unit (FFU) fired teargas at demonstrators yesterday afternoon.
While in Dar es Salaam Police thwarted a planned demonstration by Muslims, in Zanzibar supporters of Muslim Cleric Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed, who have been campaigning for the Isles’ autonomy issued an ultimatum to the government, saying if their spiritual leader wasn’t found by tomorrow, they would destroy all churches as well as kill Christians.
The ultimatum, which was posted online, insisted that Christians who are minority in Zanzibar should prepare for the worst if the missing cleric is not found.
By the end of yesterday, more than 50 people had been arrested followings two days of riots that have shut down businesses and schools on the island of Zanzibar.
Trouble began when supporters of Muslim cleric Sheik Farid Hadi, who campaigns for Zanzibar's autonomy, was reported to have gone missing. One policeman was killed after being beheaded on Wednesday evening.
Fracas erupted at around 1315 at different locations in the aftermath of the Islamic Friday pray.
Groups of youths who were armed with stones and other crude weaponry set tyres on fire and blocked major roads with stones and logs, halting transportation.
The situation brought to closure of most retail and wholesale shops at Darajani, Mlandege, Malindi areas as well as around Mji Mkongwe, causing panic among the traders and other residents.
Zanzibar Police Commissioner, Mussa Ali Mussa, was not available for comment; only his assistant responded on the mobile phone, saying his boss was in the middle of a lengthy meeting.
Members of the Muslim group calling itself Uamsho is believed to be behind the unrest, accusing the government of involvement in the abduction of their top leader Sheikh Farid Ahmed. State organs including Police force have denied such claims.
Speaking to this paper, Uamsho acting leader, Sheikh Azzan Khalid Hamdan disassociated his group from the fracas but issued an ultimatum to the government to produce their by Saturday evening, else they would decide the way forward
In another development, Zanzibar’s Broadcasting Commission (TUZ) has banned all radio and television stations from broadcasting the ongoing violence in the Isles.
According to a letter written by the Commission, all radio and TV stations that would go against the order will face legal measures.
“Due to the ongoing chaos in the country the commission bans broadcasting news related to the violence,” the letter dated October 19 read in part.
The letter with reference number UZ?SGL2/VOL.2/ 42 was signed by Mtumwa B Mzee on behalf commission’s executive secretary before it was circulated to medial outlets.