DAR ES SALAAM - A court in Tanzania granted bail to an opposition member of parliament on Wednesday and eight others after charging them with illegal protests for demonstrating last week against a draft constitution.

An assembly dominated by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and its allies approved a draft constitution on October 2 against the wishes of main opposition groups that boycotted the process and said they would protest against the new charter.

MP Halima Mdee, who chairs the women's organization of the main opposition Chadema party, was freed with eight others after they each signed a one million shilling ($600) bond. The court set a preliminary hearing date of October 21.

The row over the constitution has raised political tensions before presidential and parliamentary elections later next year.

Police quashed a protest by members of Chadema's women's wing in the country's commercial capital Dar es Salaam on October 4 after they attempted to stage protests at the president's office to oppose the draft. Mdee was among those arrested.

President Jakaya Kikwete has promised to put the new constitution to a referendum. He was expected to announce plans for such a vote in a speech later on Wednesday.

The new constitution would replace one passed in 1977 when Tanzania was under one-party rule.

Opposition parties and civil society groups wanted a raft of political reforms and say the version passed is too limited and does not establish a federal system that many wanted.

In April, the three main opposition parties boycotted the Constituent Assembly set up in March to draft the charter, saying the CCM had hijacked the process and was ignoring their suggestions. CCM and its allies said the assembly still had a quorum to pass the draft after their opponents withdrew.

(1 U.S. dollar = 1,675.0000 Tanzanian shilling)