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Zimbabwe's Ruling Party Faces Internal Disputes as Annual Congress Approaches

Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF, in power since independence 23 years ago, is facing internal wrangling as it opens its annual congress Friday.

No one within the ruling is expecting that Mr. Mugabe will step down as its leader. But because of internal disputes, political observers say Mr. Mugabe has decided he will stay on at the helm of the party. After a meeting of the Central Committee Wednesday, Mr. Mugabe told state media that many party leaders had betrayed the founding principles of Zanu PF, and were now only interested in enriching themselves.

The agenda for the three-day party congress includes an examination of the economy, which is in its worst state in the country's history, and recent setbacks in public support, especially in cities.

Zanu PF has lost control of all but one of Zimbabwe's urban centers, but won two key parliamentary bi-elections to fill vacant seats. All elections in Zimbabwe are run by the government and there is no independent oversight of the polls.

On the eve of the congress, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change launched an urgent appeal to the international community for more food aid. It said current food stocks would run out in the last week of January, and the World Food Program had not received a formal request from the Zimbabwe government for further assistance.

More than five million people, or nearly half the population, are being fed by the WFP already. The opposition party's agriculture spokesman, Renson Gasela, said Thursday, that, even if good rains fell this summer season, only about 40 percent of the country's farmers have enough planting seed.