Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar — THERE was tension in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar on Wednesday as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds that had taken part in demonstrations to demand the release of several Muslim activists.
In Dar es Salaam, police officers deployed heavily in the Central Business District for the better part of Wednesday afternoon in a bid to keep at bay protesters who attempted to march to the Central Police Station in the city.
The protesters were demanding the release of the Secretary of the Council of Muslims' Organizations, Mr Ponda Issa Ponda who was arrested on Tuesday.
In Zanzibar, young protesters demanded to know the whereabouts of the leader of the Islands Imam Organization Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances on Tuesday. No injuries were reported, although police arrested scores of youths.
A police officer at the Central Police Station, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not the official spokesperson, said that four people were arrested when they defied police orders instructing them to disperse peacefully.
"We had to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse them after they refused to heed our orders," said the police officer. In both situations, calm returned after police dispersed the crowds.
Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander, Mr Suleiman Kova told a news conference yesterday that Mr Ponda was arrested allegedly for instigating chaos and breaching peace in the city. Mr Ponda was arrested in a special operation which lasted 90 minutes.
"He (Ponda) was arrested at around 10:30 pm, in Temeke District...riding a motorcycle to his hiding place," he said, adding that the suspect was apprehended after falling into a trap set by the police. Mr Kova warned all the members of Council of Islamic Organization to refrain from organizing unnecessary demonstrations in the country.
"We will not spare anybody this time. We are well organized and prepared to tackle any chaos in the city," he said, adding that enough is enough for Ponda. Mr Kova said that Ponda's organization, which is operating illegally has been acting contrary to the law by interfering with court orders.
Mr Ponda is also accused of leading a group of Muslims believed to be members of Council of Islamic Organization into organizing and carrying out illegal demonstrations that caused chaos in the city. Mr Ponda, according to Police, is said to have led a group of Muslims into invading plot No.311/3/4 owned by Agritanza Company, which legally bought the property from the National Muslims Council - Bakwata.
Mr Ponda claims that the plot still belongs to Muslims as procedures for its acquisition were violated. Thirty-nine people have since been arrested in connection with the chaos. Ponda is also accused of having offended President Jakaya Kikwete by issuing an ultimatum following the arrest of some Muslim youths believed to be members of his organization.
The youths were arrested last Friday for causing chaos at Mbagala in the city. The youths suspected to have caused the violence were protesting over the defilement of the Quran by a 14-year-old boy in the area.
According to police, Ponda is suspected to have led the youths and other Muslims in carrying out the protest causing chaos in the area.
In Zanzibar, according to police reports, Ahmed, who is also known as an anti-union crusader, went missing at around 11.00 pm on Tuesday night when unidentified people driving in a car stopped and successfully asked him to get in and disappeared with him to yet unidentified destination.
Acting Urban/West Regional Police Commander (RPC), Mr Said Juma confirmed this to the 'Daily News' saying: "We received reports from the leader of the Muslim Mobilization and Propagation Group (UAMSHO) Sheik Msellem Ally that Ahmed was missing."
"Msellem reported the matter at around 12.30 pm today (yesterday) and we took the issue seriously. Immediately we started to investigate," he said.
He added: "Unfortunately as the investigation continues, youths started demonstrating by blocking streets with stones, garbage and burning tyres. They have also set fire to the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) leisure centre at Mwembe-Kisonge and other areas before fire fighters managed to put it out."
The RPC said that Farid was not in police custody and that they were working with UAMSHO leaders to find him, as a considerable number of riot police tried to maintain order in the streets.
The unrest caused panic leading to the closure of all shops at Darajani shopping area. Many parents and teachers complained that the disorder and police teargas affected students sitting Form IV national examinations in schools close to Darajani.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has called for restraint among Tanzanians following the recent skirmishes in Mbagala that resulted in the burning of several churches. "Tanzania is a peaceful country that no one could expect to see such a thing happening," said the UN Resident Coordinator for Tanzania, Mr Alberic Kacou.
There is a need to respect everyone's faith, dignity and right," he said, adding that properties and churches destruction was not a proper way to address the problems