28 May 2012

Tanzania: Rioters Torch Churches in Zanzibar

Photo: Tanzania Daily News
Chaos aftermath: Passers-by watch as tyres burn following riots

Zanzibar — POLICE are hunting for suspects in connection with Saturday night's clashes in the municipality of Zanzibar, that left property destroyed including two churches that were set on fire.

Police confirmed yesterday that Uamsho faith group was to blame for the criminal acts.

A group of youths believed to be followers of an Islamic propagation group in Zanzibar -- Uamsho -- currently campaigning against the Union, had attempted to hold a rally at the Mwembe-Madema Police station as a gesture of protest against the arrest of one of their leaders.

Eyewitnesses said that Uamsho fans' attempt to occupy the police station and refusal to obey orders to vacate the place was met with police tear gas, and bullets in the air. "Tear gas and live bullets were fired into air the whole night on Saturday and yesterday morning," said Amina Hassan, a resident in the trouble spot.

She and other people at Michenzani, Dajarani, and Kariakoo streets complained that they had a sleepless night and that their businesses paralyzed yesterday with the streets littered with stones, and burning tires.

"We have managed to control the situation. We are now busy hunting for the suspects who caused all this havoc. We have already arrested seven people. All of them are members of Uamsho group. It is this group that is responsible for the problem," the Commissioner of Police (CP) in Zanzibar, Mr Mussa Ali Mussa, said at a press conference on Sunday.

However, he declined to mention the names of the suspects that are in custody. He added: "We will spare no efforts in hunting for all suspects including the leaders of Uamsho so that we take them to court.

"Members of this group have been using abusive language against leaders, destroying property and are to blame for the destruction of two churches." CP Mussa named the destroyed Churches as Tanzania Assemblies of God at Kariakoo and Kibweni Church. He said that the crime is punishable.

"I appeal to anyone with information that would help the police to arrest the suspects to help us." Although there are reports that some people got injured, the CP said there was no reported case of injury.

Bishop Dickson Kaganga of Tanzania Assemblies of God told reporters at the ill-fated Church that a group of youths armed with stones and sticks forcefully entered the church at around 10.30pm on Saturday.

"They set fire on some plastic chairs, a car, music instruments and other items. They also pulled down the fence," he said.

"Fortunately the guards at the church escaped unhurt. No one got injured but property worth more than 100m/- was destroyed," Bishop Kaganga said. However, in a press statement released later, Uamsho refuted claims that it was responsible for the destruction of the two churches. "Islam is a religion of peace and never shall we send our people to destroy churches," the group said.

"Let the police hunt for the culprits and take them to court," said the group's statement signed by Uamsho secretary Abdallah Saidi. Uamsho has been conducting a series of public rallies on both Unguja and Pemba islands with the aim of inciting Zanzibaris to demand a referendum, an opportunity that would bring about "full independence for Zanzibar."

Leaders of Uamsho led by Sheikh Farid Hadi have openly vowed to fight for Zanzibar's sovereignty, arguing that "economic difficulties and moral decay in the islands are partly caused by the present structure of the Union."

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