Police arrest 15 over strike by bus drivers

Fifteeen people are in police hands here in connection with Monday’s strike by commuter bus drivers, conductors and touts that led to a commotion in which six vehicles were damaged.

The chaos involved drivers and conductors who resumed work contrary to an earlier agreement to down tools being forced to park their vehicles or risk assaults by their enraged colleagues in various parts of the city.

Arusha Regional Police Commander Thobias Andengenye said officers under his command have succeeded in bringing the situation under control.

“So far, we have arrested 15 people, most of them youths alleged to have been roaming the city’s streets causing turmoil,” he said.

He said the damaged vehicles belongs to Tanroads, the National Bureau of Statistics, the Arusha Regional Commissioner’s office and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, adding that the arrested suspects will be charged with vandalism.

As police continue to hunt for more people in connection with the city bus strike, the 60-plus bus drivers arrested earlier for various traffic offences yesterday refused to disembark from the Prisons vehicle that was taking them to the Arusha Regional Magistrate’s Court. They were demanding “justice”.

Explosives, tear gas canisters and stones hurled randomly, have been sending panicky residents fleeing in various directions, while many students have chosen to remain home in fear of being caught in the chaos as they walk to school and back home for lack of public transport.

Despite meeting with regional commissioner Isidori Shirima on Monday, the bus personnel on strike have stuck to their guns by refusing to pick up passengers even though their vehicles are roaming the streets with touts hollering at police and stranded would-be commuters.

On Tuesday afternoon the bus drivers had started to gather at Impala Hotel in the city’s Kijenge suburb for a meeting to which they invited Arusha Regional Traffic Officer, Amir Konja.

However, the RTO turned down the invitation, saying things were “resolved” on Monday before the regional and district commissioners as well as the RPC.

Contacted for comment, commuter bus owner Haruni Kakiva said: “We, as owners, have instructed our drivers to resume operations but what we see is that there are hooligans who are using the strike for their own selfish ends.”

He asked police to work on “those hooligans who have intimidated our drivers to park their vehicles for security reasons”.

Police in the city were on Monday forced to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds of commuter bus drivers and conductors staging a strike, allegedly following months of traffic police mistreatments.

Commuter bus services ground to a halt in the morning, partially paralysing transport, with riot police moving in to disperse crowds at Ngarenaro, Korokoroni, Kilombero, Meru Post Office and the busy central commercial district after several public vehicles were damaged.

One of the damaged vehicles was a Toyota V8 with registration number STK 8196, driven by the regional statistician, Margaret Martin.

Huge numbers of people gathered at different bus stops waiting for elusive transport, as operators pressed the authorities to respond to their demands – including ending arrests by police when drivers stop to pick up and drop off commuters and being given permanent employment contracts.

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