30 protesters held after cleric’s arrest


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The Independent Online

Muslim protesters clashed with police in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, today during a protest over the arrest of an Islamic cleric. Police fired tear gas and at least 30 people were arrested.

Similar demonstrations have erupted sporadically in recent weeks, raising religious tensions in the relatively stable and secular East African country.

Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda was arrested last month and charged with theft and trespass.

Sheikh Ponda, secretary-general of the Council of Islamic Organisations, a rival of the government-backed National Muslim Council of Tanzania, is in police custody.

“Immediately after Friday prayers, worshippers came out of the Tandamti mosque and confronted policemen stationed outside the mosque,” said a witness, Omary Haj. “The worshippers started throwing stones at police, who responded by firing tear gas at protesters.”

Kariakoo, a city centre marketplace, was said to be deserted. Many shops and offices had closed in anticipation of unrest.

“We were informed by police there could be riots and they advised us to close our offices before noon,” said Michael Ndosi, a travel agency worker.

The unrest mirrored discontent further north, where a Kenyan separatist group has called for the secession of Coast province, which is home to large Muslim communities.

The poor, Muslim coastal areas have proved a fertile recruitment ground for Somalia’s al Shabaab militant group.