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Tsvangirai-Led MDC Faction Opens Harare Congress

The faction of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change led by founding MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai opened its congress Friday in Harare, the capital, with analysts expecting Tsvangirai to assert his primacy in the opposition against rival MDC faction president Arthur Mutambara, who was to address a rally Sunday.

Tsvangirai, who is running unopposed for re-election to his post, was expected to gain ratification. But observers expected fierce competition for other posts such as vice president - contested by Thokozana Khupe and former ZANU-PF governor Welshman Mabhena. A tough battle is also seen between Tendai Biti and Tapiwa Mashakada for the position of secretary general, left open by the departure of Welshman Ncube.

Besides selecting leaders, the MDC's Tsvangirai faction intends to map out a political strategy - not only against President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party, but also the rival faction led former student leader and businessman Arthur Mutambara.

Thousands thronged the congress at the Harare sports center. But many others were said to be stranded due to a lack of transport: sources said authorities denied fuel to bus companies or warned carriers against bringing opposition members into Harare.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Tsvangirai faction, about the agenda facing the congress.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer John Makumbe told reporter Chinedu Offor that Zimbabweans will be watching certain benchmarks to decide which faction of the fractured opposition can lodge the strongest claim to legitimacy.

The Mutambara-led faction was set to hold a rally at a stadium in Bulawayo on Sunday afternoon - the first for Mutambara since his election as president of the faction.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba asked faction spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi whether the rally is being staged, as analysts have concluded, to steal Tsvangirai's thunder.

National Coordinator Farai Maguwu of the Civic Alliance for Democracy and Governance tells reporter Carole Gombakomba that the decision by the Mutambara faction to hold the rally on the final day of the rival faction's congress suggests that its leaders are worried that the boost from their recent congress may be fading.

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