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Tanzania: Seven opposition supporters allegedly killed

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 A major opposition party in Tanzania is accusing police of shooting dead at least seven citizens amid unrest over alleged fraud on the eve of the country's presidential election.

The ACT Wazalendo party on Tuesday also said police in the semi-autonomous island region arrested its Zanzibar presidential candidate, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad. A police official in Zanzibar city, Mohammed Hassan Haji, has confirmed the arrest but gave no details.

Police in Pemba city, however, did not comment on the ACT Wazalendo allegation that police opened fire on citizens Monday evening on the eve of advance voting in the region.

The party at first said three people were killed but Pavu Juma Abdalla, the party's deputy secretary for human rights, has now said that the toll had risen to seven. She said more than 100 people had been arrested.

``I think it is going to be a very terrible situation,'' she stressed.

The army was distributing ballot boxes at polling stations designated for advance voting on Monday evening when ``Citizens in areas surrounding the polling stations have claimed that these boxes contain ballots already pre-marked,'' the party's statement said. ``They accordingly sought to prevent these ballot boxes from being transferred to the polling stations.''

Police at first responded with tear gas and the live ammunition, the statement said.

The ACT Wazalendo presidential candidate in Zanzibar, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, condemned the shootings. He was then arrested Tuesday morning at a polling station as he went to vote, the party said.

``Zanzibar lives matter,'' the statement said, calling for his immediate release.

There was a heavy police and military presence in Zanzibar on Tuesday, with many roads blocked. People reported that internet service had slowed, amid fears that the service would be cut off altogether on Wednesday.

``I'm alarmed by reports from Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths and detentions,'' the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, Donald J. Wright, said Tuesday in a statement. ``It's not too late to prevent more bloodshed! Security forces must show restraint.`` The United Nations secretary-general also has called on all political leaders to refrain from violence.

The U.N. human rights office said it was ``particularly alarmed'' by reports of the shootings in Zanzibar, urging independent investigations and appealing for calm. ``We have been following with concern the shrinking of democratic space in the country, with worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against political opponents,'' spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

- John Magufuli -

Tanzanian President John Magufuli is seeking a second five-year term in Wednesday's vote, and opposition parties and human rights groups have expressed concern that the vote is already compromised in favor of the ruling party.

The 60-year-old rode to power on fiery anti-corruption stance which endeared him to a population weary of graft scandals under his predecessor. The populist Magufuli quickly consolidated power after winning the 2015 election. 

He took wildly popular decisions, such as scrapping lavish independence day celebrations in favour of a street clean-up and banning unnecessary foreign trips for officials.

** 'There is no Covid-19' -**

For many observers, Magufuli's handling of the coronavirus crisis cast his leadership style into sharp relief.

He urged prayer instead of face masks, before stopping the publication of statistics in April when the country had recorded 509 cases and 16 deaths.

In May he revealed he had submitted a variety of fruit and animals to be tested for the virus and that a papaya, a quail and a goat tested positive, revealing "sabotage" at the national laboratory.

He has since claimed prayer saved the country from Covid-19.

"That's why we are all not wearing face masks here. You think we don't fear dying? It's because there is no Covid-19," he said.

In July, the country's already tough online content laws were amended to ban publication "on deadly or contagious diseases" without official permission.

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