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New ANC President Zuma Appeals for Unity; Gives First Speech as Party Chief


South Africa's ruling African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma stressed the importance of party unity today (Saturday) in a speech at the organization's 96th anniversary celebration.

It was Zuma's first public address since toppling President Thabo Mbeki in a bitter campaign to head the ANC and attempt to succeed Mr. Mbeki as head of state in 2009.

Mr. Mbeki can not run for a third term as the nation's president, but he had wanted to be president of the ANC for a third term. However, Zuma thwarted that at a congress last month.

In his speech at a football stadium near Pretoria, the 65-year-old Zuma said one of his priorities will be to lower the nation's estimated 40 percent unemployment rate.

Corruption, money laundering, racketeering and fraud charges were brought against Zuma last month, after his successful ANC election. Party officials say they believe the charges are politically motivated.

There is a possibility Zuma will be on trial while he is running for president.

The ANC has dominated national politics in South Africa since the end of apartheid 14 years ago.

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

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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