11. April 2008

Zanzibar opposition calls protest as tensions rise

The opposition on semi-autonomous Zanzibar on Friday threatened mass protests against a delay of more than a year in forming a power-sharing coalition with the ruling party. The opposition Civic United Front called its members to demonstrate on Saturday on the politically volatile Zanzibari islands, a part of Tanzania just off its Indian Ocean coast.
Conflict between the opposition and ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which is also in charge on the mainland of the east African country, has in the past degenerated into violence.
"The Civic United Front invites you to its mass demonstration in Zanzibar demanding for the end of Zanzibar's political impasse," CUF said in a statement on Friday.
Zanzibar generates major revenue from tourists drawn to its sparkling beaches and historic reputation as an exotic spice-trading outpost, but residents complain the mainland government returns very little of that toward development.
President Jakaya Kikwete has in the past described the archipelago as the "Achilles' heel" of the otherwise peaceful country of 37 million.
Clashes broke out after a 2005 election in which the opposition said its candidate was robbed of victory by widespread rigging.
Serious talks about a coalition government started in early 2007, but the parties differ on how far they have gotten and what has been promised. The ruling party has said any coalition should be put to a referendum. The opposition says it fears that could be rigged.
Other signs of tension have emerged in the last week. On Zanzibar's main island Unguja, leaflets were scattered telling anyone from the other island Pemba -- an opposition stronghold -- to leave within two weeks.
Opposition legislators walked out of a mainland Tanzania parliament session earlier this week in protest at the ruling party's handling of the coalition government proposal.
Patience also seems to be running out among the island's residents. Earlier this month, elders confronted the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, Mark Green, during a visit. "We are tired. The peace talks have taken 14 months and nothing has come out of it. We believe CCM is buying time and the union government has failed to help us," elder Bakar Muhammed, from the opposition stronghold island of Pemba, said.
Predominantly Muslim Zanzibar joined mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania, but has its own president and parliament. (Rts)


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