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Tanzanian coup foiled, but not economic woes

Only months after an unsuccessful bid to overthrow the government in neighboring Kenya, Tanzania has now been shaken by its own coup attempt that did not come off.

Disappointment over the country's economic performance appears to be at least partly responsible for the unrest. But Tanzanian officials remain discreet about details of the aborted coup, uncovered about a week ago, to overthrow the government of President Julius Nyerere, the long-serving leader who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1961.

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Only this weekend, after rumors of Tanzanian unrest had spread like a savanna wildfire throughout East Africa, did a government spokesman reveal in a guarded statement that ''an undisclosed number'' of persons had been arrested for ''an attempt to incite unrest'' earlier this month.

The statement in Tanzania's official news agency, Shihata, said those arrested included members of the armed forces and civilians.

Sources contacted in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, said a highly placed army officer was involved, but his name was not disclosed. An unofficial source put the number arrested at 700. Most of them were apparently made in Dar es Salaam and Arusha, a small town in northwestern Tanzania near the Kenyan border.

For some months there have been reports of dissatisfaction in Tanzania over the country's critical economic position. Already ranked as one of the world's poorest, the country's imports have been severely cut because of an acute shortage of foreign exchange. There are serious food shortages, with commodities like milk, basic grains, soap and even meat in short supply.

Blamed are a breakdown of the socialist central distribution system and poor results in the collective farm operation.

Dissidents have been many, and although there are no official reports on the number of people in detention, unofficial estimates put them in the thousands.

Little Kenyan sympathy is expected for Tanzania's current plight. Last August , after Kenya's own attempted coup by members of its Air Force, Tanzania refused to grant Kenya's request for the extradition of the coup leaders who hijacked a plane to Dar es Salaam after the attempt failed.

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