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Reconciliation Door Ajar as Zimbabwe Opposition Split Deepens

The faction of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change opposed to founding President Morgan Tsvangirai has elected its own president, former student leader Arthur Mutambara, but Tsvangirai’s backers said his election was illegitimate.

In his acceptance speech, Mutambara, 40, described Tsvangirai as a "Zimbabwean hero" and promised to step down if the feuding factions could be reunited. Mutambara also pledged to restart the opposition's stalled campaign against President Robert Mugabe, telling reporters "we are definitely going to use any means that suits us to achieve power from the ruling ZANU-PF."

Proceedings at Bulawayo's Centenary Theatre ran late and delegates complained about inadequate accommodations - some had to sleep in the open. But leaders of the faction expressed the hope that Mutambara, a former robotics researcher with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Asministration, could help them achieve a political liftoff.

Correspondent Netsai Mlilo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Bulawayo.

Tsvangirai's faction, meanwhile, said the congress had no legitimacy. A spokesman for the faction that lined up behind Tsvangirai last October when he insisted that the party boycott November senate elections, demanded that the Bulawayo faction drop the opposition party's name and logo in all of its official communications.

Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the MDC's leadership has not changed at all from a legal standpoint.

Analysts say Arthur Mutambara’s election comes as a watershed in the crisis that has divided and thereby weakened Zimbabwe's main opposition party.

Chairman Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly, an advocacy group, said the MDC's split will make it impossible for the opposition to win a free and fair election and effectively hands the country’s future over to the ruling ZANU-PF.

Reporter Blessing Zulu asked parliamentary liaison officer Herman Honekom of the Africa Institute of South Africa for his perspective on Mutambara’s election.

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