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Zimbabwe Opposition Faction Moves To Patch Rift Over Women's Panel

Facing an incipient rebellion by the women in its ranks over the dissolution earlier this month of a women's assembly, the leadership of the faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai has called a special congress of the women's assembly on October 28, party sources said.

The dissolution of the assembly by a steering committee of the faction was interpreted by many as a roundabout means of ousting its head, Lucia Matibenga. The language used to announce the decision was also unfortunate, as officials referred to an "audit" of the assembly, which some took as suggesting financial improprieties. However, the term "audit" was used to describe a general review of the assembly's effectiveness.

Faction Secretary General Tendai Biti, who is said to have signed the letter dissolving the women's assembly, confirmed Tuesday that the party will hold the extraordinary congress at the end of the month – but refused to disclose further details.

National Chairman Lovemore Moyo was said to have signed the letter calling for the extraordinary summit – the next ordinary summit was not due until 2011.

Some members of the MDC faction's national executive said the standing committee headed by party President Morgan Tsvangirai failed to follow the proper procedure in dissolving the assembly. Sources said the national executive has scheduled an emergency meeting one day before the women’s congress opens.

Political analyst John Makumbe, a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the faction needs to call a special meeting if there are disagreements within a party organ, but added that current problems in the faction go well beyond the Women’s Assembly.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper reported that Theresa Makone, wife of faction elections director Ian Makone, was the top contender to become national chairwoman of the women's assembly. VOA could not reach Makone for comment.

National Director Ernest Mudzengi of the National Constitutional Assembly noted in an interview with reporter Patience Rusere that the dissolution of the women's assembly was closely followed by that of the faction's United Kingdom executive, reflecting a fundamental unease with MDC compromises in crisis talks with ZANU-PF.

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