Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was recovering in hospital last night after a car crash which killed his wife, Susan, and injured an aide. There were chaotic scenes outside the hospital in Harare as supporters concerned about a possible assassination attempt gathered. He was said to be in a stable condition.
Comments from inside the MDC leader's party have been contradictory, with spokespeople saying both that there is no reason to suspect foul play, and that it cannot be ruled out.
Mr Tsvangirai's car had been hit by a truck while travelling to his rural home south of the capital. Initial reports pointed to the collision being an accident as it occurred on a notorious stretch of road where there have been a number of fatalities, according to authorities. Police later said that the truck driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. The fate of the former opposition leader, who controversially joined President Robert Mugabe in a unity government last month, gripped the troubled southern African nation.
Mr Tsvangirai's ally, the Finance Minister Tendai Biti, declared the premier "fine" after visiting him last night. Mr Mugabe also visited his long time political rival in hospital even as fevered speculation continued that the crash may have been staged. As of last night there was no evidence suggesting an attempt on his life.
His wife Susan Tsvangirai was reportedly dead, although it remained unclear whether she died at the scene of the crash outside the small town of Beatrice or later en route to hospital.
Adding to suspicions were claims from MDC officials that the truck which was travelling in the opposite direction but veered into the politician's vehicle did not have number plates.
Mr Tsvangirai, who turns 57 on Tuesday, had been married to Susan for three decades. He first saw her in 1976 when he was a foreman at the mines in Bindura and she was visiting an uncle. He reportedly nudged the friend who was walking next to him and declared "That is the girl I am going to marry!" A lengthy correspondence followed and they married in 1978. The day after their wedding was the first time Mr Tsvangirai was ever photographed.
The couple had six children, including twins, who are now aged 13. Although Susan was not actively involved in Tsvangirai's party, she supported him and appeared at campaign rallies with her husband over the past 10 years.
The fatal crash could not have come at a worse time for the coalition, which was meant to solve some of the crises facing the country but has so far made little progress. Senior figures within the MDC wing of the power-sharing government have accused rogue elements in the security forces and Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party of sabotaging the new administration.
In the 11 months since Mr Tsvangirai defeated Mr Mugabe in the first round of a presidential election he has received repeated death threats. The former trade union leader was forced to go into hiding in the Dutch embassy in Harare last year between the two rounds of the poll as a state-orchestrated campaign of violence against his supporters killed more than 100 people, injured thousands and displaced tens of thousands. The MDC received what they called "credible" information that the notorious secret police agency, the CIO, had plans to assassinate him.
Since taking the leadership of Zimbabwe's opposition in the late 1990s Mr Tsvangirai has narrowly avoided being thrown from a multi-storey block and endured long periods in prison on treason charges of which he was acquitted. Two years ago he was badly beaten.
In the March 2008 elections his party overturned Zanu-PF's parliamentary majority and he defeated Mr Mugabe by five points in the presidential contest. The disputed results showed he had missed the threshold needed to avoid a second round. The run-off never happened as a wave of terror persuaded the MDC leader to boycott the contest. South Africa's Thabo Mbeki oversaw a tortuous series of negotiations that gave birth to the unity government. The administration has so far been a failure by almost all the criteria set out by the MDC. The reviled central bank governor Gideon Gono, who is blamed for Zimbabwe's record hyperinflation and collapsed economy, is still in a job, as is the attorney general and many of Mr Mugabe's inner circle.
Mr Mugabe used his 85th birthday last month to launch a fresh round of seizures of white farms. The MDC's Roy Bennett, a white farmer who lost his land to these seizures, has been arrested and put on terrorism charges despite being named deputy minister for agriculture in the government.
There is a joke in Zimbabwe that the reason Mr Tsvangirai was bought into the government was so Mr Mugabe "could shoot him from point blank range". Zimbabwe has a history of mysterious deaths of rivals to its President.