By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala


DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania's main opposition party has suspended protests scheduled for Thursday, to give time for negotiations with the government that has called its planned demonstrations illegal.


President John Magufuli said in July he would crack down on troublemakers "without mercy" after the opposition CHADEMA party called for nationwide demonstrations on Sep. 1.


Magufuli, nicknamed "the bulldozer" for pushing through his policies, has won some praise from Western donors for anti-corruption drives and curbing wasteful government spending since coming to power in November.


But opponents accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian, undermining democracy by curbing political activity and restricting live TV coverage of parliamentary sessions.


CHADEMA said it was heeding calls from religious leaders to postpone its "day of defiance" for a month to give clerics time to hold talks with Magufuli and plead with him to give opposition parties more democratic space.

"The nationwide rallies and demonstrations planned for Sept. 1 have been suspended to allow religious leaders to resolve this issue through dialogue," CHADEMA's national chairman, Freeman Mbowe, told journalists.

"If efforts by our religious leaders do not bear fruit ... we will hold our planned peaceful demonstrations on Oct. 1."

Opposition leaders said the ban on demonstrations was unconstitutional. Authorities, though, say the police have legal powers to outlaw protests for security reasons.

Since its independence in 1961, Tanzania has avoided a violent change of power and the civil wars that have bedevilled some of its neighbors in volatile east and central Africa.

Analysts, however, say the stalemate over the banned protests risked triggering instability.

Police in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday took in Mbowe and four other CHADEMA leaders for questioning but released them without charge several hours later.

(Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Robin Pomeroy)