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Mugabe Challenger Makoni Expelled, Vilified By Zimbabwe Ruling Party

Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party has expelled former finance minister Simba Makoni for launching a challenge to President Robert Mugabe in next month’s elections, while state-controlled media and liberation war veterans vilified and threatened him.

The government-controlled media labeled Makoni a puppet of Mr. Mugabe's Western critics, and veterans of the 1970s liberation war called him a "traitor."

Rural Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, also legal affairs secretary of ZANU-PF, told state radio that Makoni had expelled himself from the ruling party.

Deputy Chairman Joseph Chinotimba of the National War Veterans Association issued a thinly veiled threat against Makoni, saying that “we will have finished with him” by the time nomination courts for the March 29 elections sit in about 10 days.

Chinotimba added that ZANU-PF has dealt harshly with turncoats.

ZANU-PF insiders said the atmosphere in the party was tense, reporting that agents of the Central Intelligence Organization and military intelligence were moving to purge members suspected of being aligned with Makoni. Among those thought to back him is former army general Solomon Mujuru, spouse of Vice President Joyce Mujuru.

Senior Researcher Chris Maroleng of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Makoni’s declaration of candidacy was an important development in the election campaign.

National Director Earnest Mudzengi of the National Constitutional Assembly said that by threatening Makoni, the ruling party was proving that it is undemocratic.

Among opposition leaders the reaction to Makoni’s announcement was mixed.

The Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Arthur Mutambara welcomed his entry into the presidential race, whereas the rival Morgan Tsvangirai grouping voiced skepticism, describing Makoni's political debut as "sudden."

Deputy Information Secretary Abednico Bhebhe of the Mutambara faction told reporter Patience Rusere that the formation was pleased to see Makoni in the race because his candidacy seemed likely to divert votes away from Mr. Mugabe.

Bhebhe said his grouping might consider an alliance with Makoni if the need arose.

But the other MDC faction said held that Makoni’s candidacy was not going to have a significant impact on the chances of its candidate, MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai.

From Bulawayo, Tsvangirai formation deputy spokeswoman Tabitha Khumalo called Makoni an opportunist who waited until elections were near to step forward.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...