Tanzania president meets exiled opposition figure in sign of rapprochement

DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan met top opposition figure Tundu Lissu in Belgium on Wednesday, Hassan’s office said on Wednesday, a step suggesting Lissu may be prepared to return home from self-imposed exile.

A fierce critic of former Tanzania President John Magufuli and his government, Lissu fled into exile in 2017 after being shot and wounded by unidentified gunmen in the administrative capital Dodoma.

However, Hassan, who took over after Magufuli’s death in March last year, has pursued measures to improve Tanzania’s human rights record including lifting bans on media outlets imposed under his predecessor.

A statement by Hassan’s State House said the president met Lissu in Brussels at the latter’s request.

The president and Lissu, the statement said, “discussed various issues of mutual interest on the state of the Tanzanian nation”. No further details were provided.

Lissu, who is vice president of the main opposition Chadema party, was arrested eight times in the year leading up to the shooting attack in 2017 and was charged with incitement, among other alleged offences.

He spent three years in exile before returning in July 2020 to participate in that year’s presidential elections, losing to Magufuli. Lissu rejected the outcome, alleging widespread vote rigging.

He again went abroad in November 2020 after complaining of death threats and has since been in exile in Belgium. (Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Mark Heinrich)