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Harare Judge Says Opposition Women's Congress Must Resolve Dispute

In what might be described as a Solomonic decision, a Zimbabwean high court judge ruled Friday that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai could go ahead with a special congress of its women's assembly which would decide whether faction leaders were right to dissolve its executive.

The decision was immediately claimed as a victory by leaders of the MDC faction and by the nominally ousted women's assembly chairwoman, Lucia Matibenga, and Judge Yunus Omerjee's written decision left much leeway to support either assertion - as reflected in the fact that the order was issued with the consent of both parties.

The decision by the opposition faction's mainly male leadership to dissolve the board has threatened to drive a gender-based wedge through the formation two years after the MDC fractured over whether or not to contest elections for a new senate.

Omerjee ordered that "the question of the validity of the dissolution of the executive of the national assembly for women is to be included on the agenda and determined by the congress on October 28, 2007 or any other date to which congress may be postponed." The congress is set for Sunday in second city Bulawayo.

On some points the judge appeared to rule against Matibenga. She had argued that the MDC faction's national standing committee, comprising Tsvangirai, Biti and a few other top officials, had no right to dissolve the executive, nor did it have the authority to call for an extraordinary congress such as that now scheduled for Sunday.

Matibenga further challenged the composition of the proposed congress, saying that some 92 percent of delegates entitled to attend had been excluded. The judge did not address this point - leading some to anticipate a further legal battle following the congress over the issue of whether members were equitably represented.

Both parties expressed satisfaction with the outcome after a two-hour hearing.

The Tsvangirai faction's secretary general, Tendai Biti, told VOA that the extraordinary congress will go ahead Sunday, and that the leadership's position was vindicated.

He also moved to minimize the damage caused in the party by saying the dissolution was not based on patriarchalism, chauvinism or contempt of the feminist movement.

Matibenga's ouster angered groups like the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Center, the Zimbabwe Women's Lawyers Association and Women in Politics Support Unity.

In an interview, Matibenga told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that she welcomed the high court order as it affirmed her earlier assertion that only the women's congress had the power dissolve her executive.

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