Saturday, June 15, 2013

Panic as deadly blast rocks Arusha again

The scene where yesterday explosion occurred a

The scene where yesterday explosion occurred a few minutes before the closing of the Chadema campaign meeting. Photo IStaff photographer 

By Zephania Ubwani, The Citizen Bureau Chief

Arusha. Two people died, and several were injured in Arusha yesterday, in the wake of a bomb blast at Kaloleni playground, venue of a Chadema campaign meeting ahead of councillors’ by-elections scheduled for today.

Regional police commander Liberatus Sabas spoke of the casualties being a man and a woman, but an additional information indicates that Mount Meru Hospital had received the body of a child.

The facility’s medical officer in charge, Frida Mukiti, also reported that several injured people were being treated there.

RPC Sabas also explained that injured persons were spread over many hospitals.

According to eyewitnesses, a bomb was hurled on the spot where senior leaders were seated, including the major speakers, national chairman Freeman Mbowe and Arusha MP Godbless Lema.

The attack took place shortly before 6 pm, only minutes before the rally ended. Last month, a bomb attack occurred at a Catholic church at Olasiti suburb, shortly before its inauguration, killing three people and injuring scores.

A motorbike taxi (bodaboda) operator, Victor Ambrose Calist, 20, has since appeared in court to answer charges of murder and attempted murder.

By the time of going to press, no arrests had been made.

Against the backdrop of the by-elections in Elerai, Kimandolu, Kaloleni and Themi wards, is the decision by the top Catholic leadership to strip former councillors who were elected in 2010 of their membership.

The electoral contest is billed to be fierce between the ruling CCM and Chadema, the leading Opposition party, as have been previous ones at levels ranging from the grassroots to the presidency.

Before the incident, the newly-appointed city director Siporra Liana, had said that all preparations had been finalized for the polls, assuring residents of Arusha there would be adequate security to ensure safe and peaceful voting.

“They were just descending from the vehicle which they used to address the people. No sooner had they reached the ground, there was a blast”, one eye witness who refused to be quoted by name said.

Others said the confusion arose because hundreds of people who were at the rally thought it was a tear gas bomb from the police.

“What we know is that the bomb was not thrown by the police as some people might have thought. This was an attack,” Mr Lema explained.

The second blast to rock Arusha in less than two months was likely to lead to postponement of the by-elections due to insecurity and heightened political mistrust among supporters of the major parties.

Last month’s attack, which was executed as Vatican envoy to Tanzania Francisco Padilla was about to inaugurate the church at Olasiti on the outskirts of the normally serene city.

Police had cordoned off the venue of the Chadema rally. Security officials confided that it was a bomb attack and was hurled from the perimeter of the basketball playground where the party leaders addressed the well attended election rally.

Hundreds of people were still milled around the scene at 7 pm when The Citizen on Sunday reporter visited the scene with more contingents of armed police arriving to control the anxious crowds and to secure the area.

There was blood on the floor of the playground, pieces of cloth, boxes and nylon. This was the place security officers and eyewitnesses said the bomb fell.

The shocked Mr Lema said the attack bore hallmarks of the one at Olasiti Roman Catholic Church on May 5.

According to him, several people could have been killed, including a teenager whose body was mutilated by the blast. The Arusha Urban legislator said he feared an official of Chadema’s women wing might have died in the attack because she was seriously injured and rushed to hospital.

Most of the injured were rushed to the nearby Lutheran Medical Centre. Several people were until last night streaming to the facility to seek more information on the injured persons.

Kaloleni, commonly known as Soweto is a middle class suburb just north of the main stadium in Arusha. It is dotted with a residential quarters belonging to the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC).

The attack is bound to send shock waves through the tourism industry, of which the northern city is the nucleus. Stakeholders had remarked, after the previous attack, that, some panicky would-be visitors had cancelled bookings.

They appealed to the government to beef up security, given that tourism revenue was critical to the national kitty.