23 Feb 2012

By Joyce Joliga
The Citizen Correspondent
Songea. Police in Songea allegedly shot dead four civilians yesterday, during a fracas associated with a public demonstration against a reported string of murders over the past four months, that the law enforcement organ is accused of neither curbing nor resolving.In a quick rejoinder, however, Ruvuma Regional Police Commander Michael Kamuhanda put the figure of those who had died at two.  

Several other people were injured when police officers used tear gas and live ammunition to quell angry demonstrators, some of whom had stormed the town’s main police station.The Ruvuma regional hospital chief medical officer, Dr Benedicto Ngaiza, confirmed that the hospital  had received four bodies and about 20 injured persons. 

He said two of the bodies had bullet wounds, and  two of the injured persons had bullet injuries  as well, and were rushed to the theatre for operations. All the bodies were delivered by the police,  he explained, adding that, one of them was that of a motorcyclist who had  accidentally hit a tree while speeding  away from the fracas.
Since November last year, nine people have been murdered in the town – a roughly monthly average of two –  some of whose bodies had been mutilated.

The trend has triggered much panic and anger amongst wananchi, who are in the dark over whether the crime is the work of a serial killer or a gang. Worrisome, too, is that, so  long as  the motives of the murders are not known, anyone was a potential next victim.

Chaos  and confusion reigned in Songea for a couple of hours yesterday, as most of the normal  official, business and social activities came to a standstill, as  much attention was  focused on the drama featuring chanting and stone-throwing demonstrators and law enforces who strived to restrain them.

Government offices,  the regional hospital, shops,  and the main bus stand, were among the  sensitive facilities that were temporarily closed and reopened only after relative calm had been restored.

The closures were  prompted by fears by  many people over  being caught in the cross-fire,  or falling victim to looters and petty thieves, since amongst the presumed demonstrators were  people who wielded crude weapons like iron bars.

Many people scattered in various directions towards safer places away from  the procession route, including crew  and passengers awaiting long distance  bus trips. Guards at the regional hospital closed the gates  of the facility as a precaution, as they couldn’t  establish whether  all the people in the huge crowd  that pleaded to be  allowed in were seeking protective shelter, or whether some  were thugs.

 The procession towards the police station  that started early in the morning, attracted hundreds of people marching on foot as well as motorcyclists in slow motion. The crowd swelled as word spread to various parts of the town and more people joined in.

Reports say that  the police fired live ammunition in the air and lobed teargas canisters into the crowds in a bid to restrain them, but, some amongst them continued pushing relentlessly into the police  station compound.

It was at that juncture that the police fired directly  into the crowd, killing two of the protestors, according to RPC Kamuhanda,  who explained that they had refusing to heed orders aimed at preventing a breach of peace. Mr Kamuhanda said investigations had been launched, but  hinted that initial indications pointed to  superstitious beliefs and politicking as causes of the chaos.

The Ruvuma Regional Commissioner, Mr Said Mwambungu,  expressed  dismay over the incident, and appealed to wananchi to remain calm while the Police was continuing with efforts to track down the  perpetrators  of the murders that had fuelled their anger.

He appealed  to Songea residents to avoid walking alone at night, especially if they didn’t have important engagements  that warranted taking risks.

In the evening, Mr Mwambungu chaired a crisis meeting of the regional peace and security committee, to chart  strategies  for containing the mysterious killings.

SOURCE: The Citizen


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