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Opposition figure returns from exile in Tanzania

Opposition figure returns from exile in Tanzania
File photo from January 5, 2011: Godbless Lema arrested by riot police during a ...   -  
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Tanzanian opposition politician Godbless Lema returned home Wednesday from exile in Canada to a cheering crowd, his party announced, as Tanzania hopes to turn the page on years of authoritarian rule.

A former lawmaker for the main opposition Chadema party, Lema fled the East African nation in November 2020, citing death threats following a disputed election.

His return comes a month after another opposition stalwart, Tundu Lissu, returned to his native country after spending most of the past five years in exile following an assassination attempt.

Their return follows President Samia Suluhu Hassan's lifting of a ban on political gatherings, a gesture of openness to the opposition.

"The party's northern region chairman arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport this afternoon," Chadema said on Twitter. Jubilant supporters dressed in party colors of white, red, and blue swarmed the airport, some 70 kilometers from the northern city of Arusha, where the opposition was to hold a welcome rally.

They waved flags and placards wishing "Welcome home my son".

A fierce critic of the government, Mr. Lema, a member of parliament for 10 years, was one of many opposition members who lost their seats in key strongholds in the 2020 elections.

Opposition parties called for street protests against the results, but their leaders, including Mr. Lissu, were arrested.

Mr. Lema sought refuge in Kenya with his wife and children before being granted political asylum in Canada.

Political rallies were banned under Hassan's predecessor, John Magufuli, who died just five months after winning his second term in office - with an improbable 84% of the vote.

The hard-line policies of Mr. Magufuli, nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his authoritarian leadership, and his uncompromising governance severely damaged Tanzania's reputation as a stable democracy in the region.

But since his sudden death in March 2021, Hassan has reversed some of his most controversial policy decisions and promised reforms long sought by the opposition.

Hopes were dashed, however, in July 2021 when Chadema party leader Freeman Mbowe was arrested on terrorism charges. He was released after seven months, but some critics called Ms. Hassan a "dictator.

Ms. Hassan spoke face-to-face with Mr. Lissu in Brussels in early 2022, renewing hopes for change.

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