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Tanzania opposition leader who survived 2017 gun attack to return from exile

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A Tanzanian opposition leader and potential presidential candidate said on Monday he had started his return journey to the East African nation, days after police warned his supporters against gathering unlawfully to welcome him.

DAR ES SALAAM, July 27 (Reuters) - A Tanzanian opposition leader and potential presidential candidate said on Monday he had started his return journey to the East African nation, days after police warned his supporters against gathering unlawfully to welcome him.

Tundu Lissu, a fierce critic of President John Magufuli's government, was shot 16 times in an attack by unknown gunmen outside his residence in the administrative capital Dodoma in September 2017.

At the time, Magufuli condemned the shooting and ordered the country's security forces to investigate, but no one has been arrested.

Lissu was arrested eight times in the year leading up to his attack and charged with incitement, among other alleged offences. His most recent arrest was in August 2017. He was released and shot more than two weeks later.

Since then, he has been living in exile in Belgium, where he had undergone treatment.

"Boarding Ethiopian Airlines flight ... Let's meet in Dar in slightly over three hours," Lissu said on his Twitter account. Lissu, vice chairman of the CHADEMA party, plans to vie for the presidency in October general elections and is waiting for his party primary.

CHADEMA is the leading opposition party in the East African nation. If nominated, Lissu will face incumbent Magufuli.

CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe dropped out of the presidential race after he and three other party members who initially said they would contest the presidency failed to pick and return nomination forms. Mbowe will seek to retain his current the parliamentary seat.

Magufuli, nicknamed "the Bulldozer", for his ability to push through major projects, took office in November 2015 pledging to expand the East African nation's infrastructure and fight graft.

But international rights groups like Amnesty International have also accused him of curbing human rights including limiting free expression and cracking down on leading opposition figures.

The government has denied seeking to stifle dissent.

(Editing by George Obulutsa, William Maclean)

((george.obulutsa@thomsonreuters.com; Tel: +254 20 499 1234; Reuters Messaging: george.obulutsa.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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