Police Fire on Zanzibari Protesters
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania (AP) _ Police opened fire Monday using live ammunition and rubber bullets on rock-throwing demonstrators protesting elections that international observers said represented ``a colossal contempt for ordinary Zanzibari people.″
The opposition Civic United Front had been expected to do well in the elections in Zanzibar, a semiautonomous region of Tanzania off Africa’s east coast. But the Zanzibar Electoral Commission failed to deliver ballots on time and not at all in 16 of the districts where the opposition party is strong.
Civic United Front leader Seif Sharif Hamad demanded the resignation of the government and its hand-picked electoral commission and that fresh elections be held throughout Zanzibar.
Amani Karume, the ruling party’s leader, rejected the opposition’s demand for elections throughout the country. His ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission agreed to rerun the elections in only 16 of Zanzibar’s 50 districts.
``We only have one week to rerun the election″ in those districts, electoral commission chairman Abraham Mwinyi Jumbe said, citing constraints imposed by the region’s constitution. ``We can’t print 1.1 million new ballots in that time.″
Jumbe said the election could be as early as Sunday, but a final decision had not been made.
Hamad, who is also a presidential candidate, gave the electoral commission and the ruling party one week to accept his demands, saying he would not be responsible for what happened.
Within minutes of his statement, demonstrators gathered on a main street bordering Zanzibar’s Stone Town district, chanting ``Bye Bye CCM (the ruling party)″ and waving rainbow-colored feather dusters.
Police arrived in force, and protesters began pelting them with stones. One police officer armed with an assault rifle charged the crowd and shot live ammunition directly at them as they ran. Other police fired rubber bullets. No one was injured.
Police then chased protesters, beating them with truncheons and breaking down doors to drag out those who sought shelter. Two dozen young men were arrested. At least one protester was seriously injured.
``In many places this election was a shambles,″ Commonwealth election observers said Monday. ``The reason is either massive incompetence or a deliberate attempt to wreck at least parts of this election. Either way, the outcome represents a colossal contempt for ordinary Zanzibari people and their aspirations for democracy.″
Monday’s disputes echoed events that followed Zanzibar’s first multiparty elections in October 1995, when the Civic United Front and international observers claimed the ruling party had rigged the elections. Serious rioting ensued and international donors later cut vital aid to the impoverished islands.
If a new vote is held in the 16 districts, more than 100,000 of Zanzibar’s 446,759 registered voters would have to go to the polls a second time. Besides their own president, legislators and local council members, Zanzibaris also vote for the Tanzanian national president and National Assembly representatives.