Arusha — Police here were forced to use teargas to disperse rioters during the early morning hours of yesterday following a strike by commuter bus operators over alleged harassment by the law keepers.
Until late in the afternoon, however, there were no reports of injuries, but several government vehicles had their windscreens smashed by mobs of rioters. Also smashed were the glass windows of a motor vehicle showroom along the Dodoma Road.
The riots and subsequent pitched battles between touts and bus drivers spread to most parts of the city and peaked by mid-morning when anti-riot police lobbed tear gas canisters to disperse protesters who had assembled at various spots in the city centre.
The drama started early in the chilly morning, with many workers and students getting stranded at various parts of the city, a situation that forced many to walk to their respective destinations as mini buses had disappeared from the main roads, signaling the beginning of a strike.
Daladala operators that were interviewed by The Citizen said they decided to park their vehicles because of constant harassment by the police over “petty offences”. These, they alleged, included being locked up at police stations or forced to pay unduly heavy fines.
Signs of the strike became evident from around 7am when the main roads leading to the city centre witnessed hundreds of stranded people, especially students, as there were no commuter buses in sight.
A few of the commuter buses were seen on the roads but they were not carrying any passengers as they headed to their respective parking lots. Meanwhile some of the stranded commuters sought alternative transport to the city centre. Most of the secondary school students opted to walk.
Tension was high in the city where daladala drivers and touts shouted down the police officers, telling them that they would not resume services until their grievances were addressed by the proper government authorities.
No bus was at the most important commuter stand, commonly known as ‘Stendi ya Vifodi’; but the place was thronged by hordes of drivers, touts and numerous other people who appeared to be sympathisers of the striking crews. As they shouted at the top of their voices, heckling the police officers who passed the area, hundreds of students stranded in various corners of the town centre, joined the fray, demanding the intervention of authorities to end their plight.
There was noise everywhere, with groups of people grouping in main road junctions. With imminent signs that there would be a breach of peace, police in anti-riot gear moved in and fired tear gas canisters at spots where people had assembled.Eyewitnesses said the police took that move, apparently to disperse the crowds of people who at various parts of the city centre to discuss the situation as they feared they could turn chaotic.
The tear gas that was lobbed at the crowds rented the air as police battled with protesters who had become unruly. By noon, the situation had calmed down, but “daladala” service had not resumed by around 7pm despite an agreement reached earlier between the transporters and the regional leaders.
A businessman operating near the central bus terminal, Mr Iddi Mfinanga, said the daladala operators went on strike to protest against what they alleged was constant harassment by the police. He alleged scores of them had been jailed for petty offences, but we had not verified this up to the time we went to press.
According to the bus operators, more than 30 of their colleagues were in jail, so one of their demands was that these should be released unconditionally and their cases heard afresh. The commuter bus owners also demanded to have bus terminals specifically assigned to their vehicles.