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Tanzania opposition demands change

By Wambui Chege, Reuters, DAWN, 10 April 2001

DAR ES SALAAM: A historic march by Tanzanian opposition parties demanding sweeping constitutional reforms has sent a strong message of discontent to the government that will only get louder, analysts said on Monday.

Around 60,000 placard-waving opposition supporters marched through normally sleepy Dar es Salaam on Saturday in an unprecedented show of unity to demand fresh elections after widely discredited polls on the Zanzibar islands last October.

Analysts said the march jolted the east African country's long-quiescent politics because it was the biggest gathering of anti-government protesters in Tanzanian history.

They added that a pledge by the opposition to keep up the pressure on the government by staging more demonstrations and rallies until their demands were met meant further political instability for the impoverished country.

The government cannot ignore the strength of their numbers, Jenerali Ulimwengu, a leading political commentator and chairman of the Habari group of newspapers told Reuters.

That alone should force their demands into the national agenda. To ignore them is to invite trouble.

Tanzania's usually fragmented opposition has been united since January when dozens of people, most of them opposition members, were killed in clashes between police and supporters of the main opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party who were demanding a re-run of the polls on the Zanzibar islands.

Nearly 2,000 Zanzibaris fled to neighbouring Kenya to escape the violence.

The islands, which have semi-autonomous status within the country, have been in political turmoil since 1995 when the CUF rejected a narrow victory in Zanzibar polls by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) saying the vote had been rigged.

The CUF, which has its stronghold in Zanzibar, also rejected the October elections in Zanzibar - when the ruling party was said to have won 34 of the 50 seats - and demanded a new vote.

It has refused to recognize the president of the Zanzibar islands Amani Karume. Neither does it recognize Tanzania's President Benjamin Mkapa as the country's leader.

We are gaining momentum, John Cheyo, chairman of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), told Reuters.

It is our intention to keep up this unity, to keep up the pressure by doing rallies, demonstrations together until the next elections in 2005.