DAR ES SALAAM  - Tanzanian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu said he will return home this month from exile in Europe, after the government lifted a ban on political rallies.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted the six-and-a-half-year ban on political rallies last week, part of her reconciliation strategy after taking over the presidency in March 2021 following the death of her predecessor, John Magufuli.

"With the lifting of the illegal ban on political activity, it's now time to return home and get back to work," Lissu wrote late on Friday on Twitter, saying he would arrive on Jan. 25.

The ban, imposed by Magufuli in 2016, allowed elected politicians to conduct rallies in their constituencies but barred other political rallies and protests.

Lissu, a former lawmaker, initially left the country to seek treatment abroad after he was shot 16 times, mostly in the lower abdomen, in an attack by unknown gunmen in the administrative capital Dodoma in September 2017.

He had been arrested eight times in the year leading up to the attack.

He returned for a few months in 2020 to challenge Magufuli in a presidential election.

Lissu garnered 13% of the votes, but his CHADEMA party rejected the outcome due to allegations of widespread irregularities.

He fled to the residence of the German ambassador in Tanzania soon after the election when he received death threats, before leaving the country again for exile.

Hassan, who has also lifted a ban on four newspapers, met Lissu during a visit to Brussels last year.

The political opposition and civil rights groups had criticised Magufuli's ban on rallies, which resulted in frequent arrests of political figures and clashes between opposition supporters and police.

(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by William Mallard)