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Succession Battle a Threat to Party, Zimabwe's Mugabe Says

FILE - President Robert Mugabe waits to address crowds gathered for Zimbabwe's Heroes Day commemorations in Harare, Aug. 10, 2015.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe told his ruling ZANU-PF party Wednesday that it was in danger of splitting and accused rival factions of stoking division as they positioned themselves to eventually succeed him.

Mugabe, 91, and looking increasingly frail, has ruled the Southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980 but has not named a successor or said whether he plans to retire.

Last December, Mugabe fired his deputy of 10 years, Joice Mujuru, who was seen as very likely to succeed him. He accused her of fanning factionalism in ZANU-PF and plotting to remove him from power. Mujuru has denied the charges.

Without naming anyone, Mugabe told the ZANU-PF central committee that groups in the party were openly and secretly maneuvering to secure influential positions, which he said was disturbing party efficiency.

"And so, we have a problem at the moment that threatens to split the party," he said.

Local private media have been running stories alleging that a group of young ZANU-PF members called G-40 was rallying behind Mugabe's wife, Grace, urging her to enter the race to succeed her husband in a bid to thwart Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa, a secretive confidante nicknamed "Crocodile" in the Shona language, replaced Mujuru last year and remains the most likely person to take over for Mugabe.

But Mnangagwa, 73, may have to wait for a while longer: ZANU-PF's annual conference, which opens Friday, is expected to confirm Mugabe as its candidate in the next presidential election, due in 2018.

Mugabe, who gave himself sweeping powers last year to appoint the party's vice presidents, said feuding factions were using dirty tactics to tarnish each other's image.

"We go day and night wanting to get information. If we can't get it, we manufacture information that will damage the group that you are opposed to most. We have become liars," Mugabe said.