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Zanzibar: Opposition claims 5 killed, leader held ahead of polls

ACT-Wazalendo party says Hamad arrested by police amid unrest in the semi-autonomous archipelago.

Zanzibar Opposition claims 5 killed, leader held ahead of polls
Police feared tear gas to disperse opposition supporters before arresting Hamad [Patrick Meinhardt/AFP]

A major opposition party in Tanzania has accused security forces of shooting dead five citizens and arresting its leader amid unrest in the semi-autonomous archipelago over alleged fraud on the eve of the country’s presidential election.

The ACT Wazalendo (Alliance for Change and Transparency) party said several others were injured and dozens more arrested in Pemba – an opposition stronghold.

“Information we have as of now is that five people are dead, they have been shot by law enforcers. Some of them were shot in their homes,” Salim Bimani, ACT-Wazalendo spokesman for the island of Pemba, told DPA news agency on Tuesday.

“This is the continuation of election violence. It did not start yesterday or today,” he added.

In a statement on Tuesday, the party said its leader Seif Sharif Hamad, who is taking his sixth shot at the top office, was hauled away by police as he arrived at a polling station in Garagara neighbourhood to try and cast his ballot on a day of early voting set aside mainly for security forces.

A police official in Zanzibar city, Mohammed Hassan Haji, confirmed the arrest to The Associated Press news agency but gave no details.

Zanzibar Police Commissioner Mohamed Hassan Haji refused to comment on the deaths.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, said authorities say Hamad had no reason to be at a polling station on Tuesday.

“Today’s early vote is for special groups like election officials, security personnel and people living with a disability. Hamad is not part of that special group, according to authorities,” Soi said.

Shortly before his arrest, police fired tear gas and live rounds, and brutally beat a young man around the Mtupepo primary school where the polling station is located in an opposition stronghold, AFP news agency reported.

The opposition believes the day of early voting is a ploy to steal the election on an island with a history of contested polls, and urged supporters to go out and vote on the same day.

Violence erupted on Monday night on Pemba, as the army distributed ballots which opposition supporters believed were pre-marked.

There was a heavy presence of police and soldiers across the islands.

In Garagara, riot police fired tear gas and live rounds.

A group of six officers beat a young man with their guns and batons before loading him into the back of their car and journalists were chased away from the scene, AFP reported.

Sectarian and political tensions in Zanzibar – with a cosmopolitan population of Arabs, Asians, and Africans – are more marked than on the mainland.

The archipelago joined with then-Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964, and Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has been in power ever since.

“The colonisers [mainland] have oppressed us enough, so take this election very seriously … we are ready to die for Zanzibar,” the 77-year-old Hamad told his final campaign rally on Sunday.

Hamad believes every vote has been stolen from him since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1995, and foreign observers have often agreed.

Zanzibar Opposition claims 5 killed, leader held ahead of polls
The opposition supported claim ballot papers have been pre-marked [Patrick Meinhardt/AFP]

In January 2001, at least 30 people were killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters after a disputed election.

Polls in 2005 were also marred by clashes.

A political deal allowing for more power-sharing led to peaceful elections in 2010, but divisions quickly returned and in 2015, the head of the electoral commission cancelled the vote outright.

In 2016, the opposition boycotted the rerun and the CCM party was declared the victor.

Wandukwa Henry

Written by Wandukwa Henry

Wandukwa Henry is a graduate from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Computer Science and now he is an African Stand correspondent covering the East African region.

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