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Activists in Zimbabwe Angered by Top Opposition Leader

Human rights activists in Zimbabwe are accusing one of the country's most senior opposition leaders of threatening violence to maintain his position as the head of a pro democracy organization.

Three weeks ago, Lovemore Madhuku was preparing for another demonstration against President Robert Mugabe's rule. He is chairman of Zimbabwe's largest and most militant pro democracy organization, the National Constitutional Assembly, which is funded by German taxpayers.

The central theme of the protests are usually the same, the need for a new, more democratic constitution for Zimbabwe.

Madhuku often leads the demonstrations, and is regularly beaten up by police.

Now, Madhuku is being accused by some of his colleagues in the NCA and an opposition political party of authoritarian behavior.

The incident which has stirred anger among pro-democracy supporters came during a recent party meeting where Madhuku rallied majority support to change the NCA's constitution so he could serve a third term as chairman. The NCA constitution limits chairmen to two terms.

Local news reports have quoted members of the NCA executive body who say Madhuku supporters threatened NCA officials with violence when they expressed opposition to the idea of a third term.

Madhuku has denied the accusations in press reports, saying a majority of members wanted to change the constitution, because they felt he was the best person for the job.

John Makumbe, veteran political analyst and human rights activist, has accused Madhuku of setting an unfortunate precedent, and abandoning the moral high ground.

He also deplored the continuing silence from the human rights community on the "Madhuku scandal," as he called it.

So far the only call for Makumbe's resignation from the NCA has come from the faction of the bitterly divided opposition party: the Movement or Democratic Change, lead by Arthur Mutambara.

He called on Madhuku to quit immediately saying he had lost the moral authority to criticize President Mugabe's human rights abuses and violations of the national constitution.

He says Madhuku's behavior has shamed all Zimbabwe's democratic forces.

A western diplomat said Monday donor funding for the human rights community of non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe is now under review, following the Madhuku incident.