Embattled Mugabe looks for successor

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The Independent Online

Robert Mugabe has urged members of his ruling Zanu-PF party to discuss his successor, fuelling speculation that the Zimbabwean leader is considering stepping down.

Zanu-PF officials confirmed yesterday that Mr Mugabe was considering retiring next year when he turns 80, but said he still preferred to retire on his own terms without involving the opposition.

He could achieve this by getting the requisite two-thirds majority needed in parliament to change the constitution and imposing a successor without calling a new election. He is four seats short of this majority but three seats are up for by-election soon. The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, recently accused Mr Mugabe of plotting to kill opposition MPs to force by-elections that he could "rig". Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has already lost three seats to Zanu-PF in by-elections.

Addressing supporters on Thursday, Mr Mugabe was quoted as saying: "The issue of my successor must be debated openly, although I would urge you not to allow it to create divisions within the party." He was quoted yesterday as accusing party members of consulting traditional healers and ancestral spirits for charms to enhance their chances of succeeding him. He also defended his seizures of white-owned land, which have left more than half the population reliant on food aid.

Meanwhile, the militant Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association (ZNLWVA), which Mr Mugabe used in the violent campaign to seize farms, has warned the MDC that it will not tolerate planned street protests aimed at forcing Mr Mugabe to resign. Patrick Nyaruwata, the ZNLWVA chairman, said in a statement that the war veterans would resort to "military tactics" to thwart the protests.

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