A faction of Zimbabwe's divided opposition has taken a step it believes has suspended party president Morgan Tsvangirai from office. The latest development in the opposition's disintegration has been dismissed by Mr. Tsvangirai and his supporters.

The disciplinary committee of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change sent a letter to party president Morgan Tsvangirai last Saturday saying it had suspended him from his position.

The letter, signed by four members of the committee, and chaired by party vice president Gibson Sibanda, accused Mr. Tsvangirai of willfully abusing the party's constitution.

It cited an October 12 meeting in which the MDC national council narrowly voted to participate in senate elections November 26. Mr. Tsvangirai emerged from the meeting saying he had decided the party would not take part and then embarked on a countrywide campaign to persuade MDC supporters to boycott the polls.

Saturday's election delivered the ruling Zanu PF party a massive victory in what independent monitors say was the lowest voter turnout since independence in 1980.

But an MDC faction, unofficially lead by party secretary general Welshman Ncube, put up candidates, saying the party constitution demands participation in all elections. Only seven of 26 MDC candidates were elected, as many supporters boycotted the election.

Mr. Tsvangirai says he will ignore the letter of suspension. His spokesman, William Bango said, the MDC leader did not want to get bogged down in legal interpretations of the party constitution. He said there is a political problem and that it would have to be sorted out politically.

Efforts at reconciling the two sides, including mediation and offers of help from South African president Thabo Mbeki have failed.

The Movement for Democratic Change was formed in September 1999 to fight for elections to oust President Robert Mugabe. Since then hundreds of its supporters and officials have been killed, many of its top leaders, including members of parliament, have been imprisoned and tortured, and thousands of its supporters have fled into exile.

Now, according to University of Zimbabwe political scientist John Makumbe, the party is headed for the history books. He said both sides in the MDC infighting have taken part in too much mud slinging for any chance of reconciliation.

He said Zimbabweans would have to wait until Mr. Mugabe left office before there could be a change in government style, a style he says that has left Zimbabwe bankrupt.