File picture - A Muslim man reads a Koran.

Dar es Salaam -

Police in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam on Friday used tear gas to disperse groups of Muslims attempting to hold demonstrations aimed at seeking the release of controversial cleric Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda.

“We have arrested about a dozen people who refused to co-operate with us,” Dar es Salaam police chief Suleiman Kova told AFP.

Businesses around the city centre came to a standstill with hundreds of police officers and members of the military deployed to the streets.

After Friday prayers, anti-riot police ordered gathering would-be demonstrators off the streets using loudspeakers and then lobbed tear-gas at those who defied their orders.

The city has been tense following last month's arrest of Ponda, the head of the Jumuiya ya wa Islamu, or the “community of Islam”, a group not recognised by the Tanzanian government. He is accused of inciting violence during October demonstrations in the economic capital Dar es Salaam.

The demonstrations were sparked by rumours that a 12-year old boy at a Christian school had urinated on a copy of the Koran, according to the police.

On Thursday, a Dar es Salaam court rejected Ponda's bail application following an objection raised by the state on “security grounds.”

The case will be heard on November 15. - Sapa-AFP