Tanzania and Zanzibar – an Indian Ocean archipelago and a semi-autonomous state of the East African country – are due to elect their presidents and lawmakers in Wednesday's election.
Zanzibar's opposition leader said that 10 people have been killed as tension erupted on the archipelago ahead of Tanzania's elections, marked by concerns for a free and fair ballot.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli called for a peaceful vote as he and his main rival on the mainland, Tundu Lissu, wrapped up their campaigns on the eve of Wednesday's vote.
Opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad, who is taking his sixth shot at the top office, said nine people had been killed on the second island of Pemba on Monday night, and one on the main island Unguja on Tuesday morning, with 50 wounded.
"We are all aware that police have been firing tear gas but also they have been firing live ammunition to shoot people," Hamad said at a press conference.
Detained for hours on Tuesday for attempting to vote on a special voting day set aside for security forces, he lashed the elections as a "farce."
In semi-autonomous Zanzibar, which votes for Tanzania's president as well as its own leader and lawmakers, security forces fired tear gas and live rounds and assaulted civilians, AFP news agency reported.
The Indian Ocean islands, famed as a paradise holiday destination with white, palm-fringed beaches, have a history of violence-plagued polls.
Police reject reports of deaths
Tanzanian police chief Simon Sirro told journalists in Dar es Salaam that 42 people had been arrested in Pemba, but denied there had been any deaths.
The opposition believes the special day of early voting for security forces, which is not happening on the mainland, is a ploy to steal the election, and had urged supporters to go out and vote on the same day.
Hamad said all opposition party agents had been kicked out of polling stations.
Hamad said voting had already begun in some places on Monday night, which led to supporters in Pemba trying to block the distribution of ballots which they believe were pre-marked.
Hamad, whose party seeks full independence, believes every vote has been stolen from him since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1995, and foreign observers have often agreed.
People of #Zanzibar chanting "Better Corona than CCM"— Maria Sarungi Tsehai (@MariaSTsehai) October 25, 2020
CCM is the ruling party in #Tanzania since independence
Do they look like they are ready to go home quietly once authorities fail to conduct credible elections?
WaZanzibari Mungu awaweke na kuwalinda! #ChangeTanzania pic.twitter.com/SwcIGR58Z8
Tear gas and live bullets
Shortly before Hamad's arrest on the main island, police fired tear gas and live rounds, while a group of about six brutally beat a young man around the Mtupepo Primary School where the polling station is located in an opposition stronghold.
Journalists were chased away from the scene.
The area was later completely sealed off by security forces, along with other roads around Zanzibar, where the occasional pop of teargas being fired could be heard.
Trucks loaded with soldiers, police and a militia linked to the ruling party known as "zombies", clad in black with their faces covered by bandanas, whizzed throughout the city.
AFP reporters witnessed the security forces beating several other civilians in different parts of town before loading them into their trucks.
I'm alarmed by reports from Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths, and detentions. It's not too late to prevent more bloodshed! Security forces must show restraint, and the NEC & ZEC must carry out their duties with integrity. Let's all pray for peaceful, fair elections.— Ambassador Donald J. Wright (@USAmbTanzania) October 27, 2020
Deeply concerning reports on killings, violence & detentions in Zanzibar.— Sweden in Tanzania (@SwedeninTZ) October 27, 2020
A safe&secured environment is of utmost importance for Tanzanians to exercise their right to vote.
We urge all parties to prevent more violence and the authorities to refrain from excessive use of force.
History of contentious elections
Zanzibar has a history of contentious elections that in the past have deteriorated into violence.
In one such episode in 2001, more than 35 people died.
US Ambassador Donald Wright voiced alarm over "reports from Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths and detentions".
"It's not too late to prevent more bloodshed! Security forces must show restraint, and the NEC (National Electoral Commission) & ZEC (Zanzibar Electoral Commission) must carry out their duties with integrity," he said in a Twitter post.
On the eve of the election, some Tanzanians reported disruptions when trying to access social media platforms, accounts confirmed by Twitter and Internet blockage monitor NetBlocks, which reported widespread problems.