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ANC Leadership Rallies Around New President Jacob Zuma

South Africa's ruling African National Congress says its recently elected leader, Jacob Zuma, will be its candidate for the South African presidency in elections due next year. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg the ANC confirmed Zuma's candidacy, despite his pending trial on corruption charges.

The secretary-general of the African National Congress, Gwede Mantashe, told reporters Tuesday a special committee is to draw up a detailed report on the $6 billion arms deal that is the source of corruption charges against the party's new president, Jacob Zuma.

"Once we get that report we can take informed decisions on what to do," said Mantashe. "At this point in time we have not asked for re-opening of the arms deal or anything. We just want detailed information."

The decision was made during the first meeting Monday of the ANC's National Executive Committee which was elected at a party congress last month. The congress overwhelmingly chose Zuma over South African President Thabo Mbeki who was seeking a third term as party leader.

The ANC has dominated national politics in South Africa since the end of apartheid 14 years ago. As a result Zuma is the frontrunner to succeed Mr. Mbeki who cannot run for a third term as the nation's president.

Mantashe reaffirmed the ANC's continued support for Zuma as its presidential candidate in national elections due next year.

"We have expressed our confidence that he will lead the ANC campaign in 2009 as the presidential candidate for the party," he said.

Zuma is due to go on trial in August, some eight months before the vote, on more than one dozen charges, including fraud, racketeering and tax evasion. The charges were announced two weeks after his election to the ANC presidency. Zuma supporters like Mantashe believe they were aimed at thwarting his presidential bid.

"The suspicion is that obviously the way it [the case] is being handled it is seen to be a political trial which is conducted in the public domain rather than in court," said Mantashe.

Zuma supporters note that details about his case have frequently been leaked to the news media while investigations into other senior political leaders have been more discreet.

Zuma was dismissed as South Africa's deputy-president two years ago after his financial counselor was convicted of soliciting bribes from the French arms manufacturer involved in the arms deal. He maintains his innocence which he says will be proven in the courts, but says he will step down if found guilty.