Tanzania opposition postpones protests against 'dictatorship'

Dar es Salaam (AFP) - Tanzania's main opposition party on Wednesday postponed for a month promised protests against what it says are anti-democratic actions by President John Magufuli.

The Chama Cha Demokrasia (Chadema) party said countrywide "defiance rallies" against Magufuli's "dictatorial tendencies" will be held on October 1 if efforts to mediate the crisis by religious leaders fail.

"Chadema would like to announce the suspension of all planned political activities and demonstrations for one month. Our intention was not paint the country in a bad way but to help our country," Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe said Wednesday, the day before protests were due to be held.

"Religious leaders have requested us to give them three weeks to find the solution to the current political crisis but we have given them four," Mbowe said.

Kitojo Wetengere, a political analyst and lecturer at Tanzania's Centre for Foreign Relations, said it was time for dialogue. "I think this is a good time to use diplomacy to solve this misunderstanding and I think it's best for the two parties to sit down and discuss the issues," he said.

Earlier this month police banned political party meetings saying they incite violence after four police officers were killed in a shootout outside a bank in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

Police said the murders were politically-motivated, a claim denied by opposition politicians.

In June, party protests were also banned after police used tear gas to break up an opposition rally.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party led by Magufuli -- a no-nonsense politician nicknamed 'The Bulldozer' who has been praised for cracking down on corruption and official waste -- won last November's election handily, but Chadema maintains strong support in urban centres.

Opposition leaders accuse Magufuli of squeezing democratic space, allegations dismissed by Magufuli who says election season is over and his focus is on implementing his political programme.