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13:52, 22 April 2018 Sunday
Update: 14:22, 20 October 2012 Saturday

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Muslims protest in Tanzania, popular cleric freed
Muslims protest in Tanzania, popular cleric freed

Fighting erupted after the group's leader Sheikh Farid Hadi disappeared in unknown circumstances.

World Bulletin/News Desk

Muslim protesters clashed with police in Tanzania's commercial capital and on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar on Friday.

In Dar es Salaam, protests against the arrest of a Muslim cleric turned violent, while in Zanzibar, supporters of an Islamist group have repeatedly fought police over the disappearance of their spiritual leader, who was then released after nearly four days in captivity.

In Zanzibar, a predominantly Muslim island, supporters of the Islamic Uamsho (Awakening) movement protested for the third day.

Uamsho followers, mostly youths and urban poor, clashed with police after Friday prayers, hurling rocks at police who retaliated with tear gas in sporadic exchanges around the main historic area of Stone Town.

Roads were temporarily closed, with rocks and coconuts strewn across the asphalt, and most businesses shut for the day. Riot police were stationed around mosques around Stone Town.

Fighting erupted on Wednesday, a day after the group's leader Sheikh Farid Hadi disappeared in unknown circumstances.

But late on Friday evening, the popular cleric was released, with shouts of "Allah Akbar" heard rising above Stone Town's maze of narrow alleys which separate Arab-style white coral stone houses.

"He is free. I had my picture taken with him," Thabit Juma, an eyewitness, told Reuters.

One Uamsho member who did not wish to be named confirmed Hadi has been freed, though he would not comment on who was responsible for his disappearance.

Earlier in the day another influential Uamsho cleric Sheikh Azzan Hamdan said the police were not doing enough to search for Hadi and set a deadline, 4 p.m. (1300GMT) on Saturday, for Hadi's safe return.

In Dar es Salaam, protesters left the Mtambani mosque after Friday prayers and marched towards the town centre chanting demands for the release of Muslim cleric Sheikh Issa Ponda.

"Police came in and started firing tear gas, while Muslim protesters responded by throwing stones," witness Salum Haji told Reuters. In the city centre streets were deserted in anticipation of further violence.

"All shops are closed in the city centre and there are heavily armed policemen patrolling the streets. We are all locked inside (a shop). I don't know how I'm going to get home," resident Neema Swai told Reuters.

Dar es Salaam's regional police commander, Suleiman Kova, said Ponda had been arrested on Tuesday for criminal trespass on private property and inciting followers to commit violence.

Ponda is the secretary general of the Council of Islamic Organisation, a group that vies for influence against the government-backed National Muslims Council of Tanzania.

Though Ponda is not known to have any links to Uamsho, the protesters also demonstrated against Hadi's disappearance.

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