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Zimbabwe Opposition Faction Torn Over Leadership Of Women's Wing

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has called a meeting Saturday of the national executive of his Movement for Democratic Change faction in a last-ditch bid to defuse a bitter dispute over the leadership of the grouping's women's wing.

Tsvangirai's personal prestige is on the line, as he made clear Tuesday in a meeting with his MDC faction's members of parliament, ordering them to respect his leadership or find another political home. The faction's image sustained further damage when its youth assaulted partisans of Lucia Matibenga, the dismissed women's wing head.

Sources in the faction said MDC parliamentarians Emmanuel Chisvuure of Budiriro, Harare, and Amos Chibaya of Gweru, Midlands, were assaulted following the meeting by youths loyal to the newly elected leadership of the women's assembly. The youths were also said to have issued threats against lawmaker Paul Madzore of Glenview, Harare, and Harare Province Chairwoman Rorana Dandajena.

Parliamentarian Chisvuure told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA that he was shocked to be attacked at the headquarters of the faction by his own members.

There were unconfirmed reports the faction's youth executive in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, had been dissolved for backing Matibenga. But members of the executive said they intend to ignore the reported dissolution order.

Faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Tsvangirai called the meeting of the faction's top body Saturday to discuss issues including what he called party "hygiene."

Political analysts warned that the trouble in the Tsvangirai faction could spill over into the crisis talks being mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki, and hobble the opposition faction as it attempts to gear up for national elections next March.

Senior researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the ruling ZANU-PF party could take this as a sign of weakness in the opposition and pull back from its negotiation commitments.

Meanwhile, despite denials by the Zimbabwean government of reports that violence against opposition members is increasing, an MDC activist in Budiriro district said he was kidnapped and severely beaten late Tuesday by suspected state agents.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from Harare.

Correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported from Bulawayo on the outrage among women members of the Tsvangirai faction over the dismissal of the female leadership.

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