Zimbabwean presidential contenders Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai squared off in separate news conferences on Wednesday, Makoni pledging to lead the nation out of its economic misery and Tsvangirai challenging Makoni's reform credentials.
Makoni was expelled earlier this week from the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe for challenging Mr. Mugabe's re-election bid. Tsvangirai heads one formation of the divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Rival MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara is also expected to seek the presidency.
Makoni told reporters in Harare that he offered the Zimbabwean people a program of re-engagement and dialogue under which he would establish a special body to tackle the collapse of agriculture since the launch of land reform in 2000, and would give the Zimbabwean people the freedom to decide and means to provide for themselves.
Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported.
Tsvangirai, addressing reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa, dismissed Makoni's credentials to bring about reform, saying that although he showed courage in breaking with the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, he nonetheless had much to answer for as a long-time senior member of the party in power since 1980.
Tsvangirai said he saw no threat from Makoni's emergence as a candidate, describing the development as a split in the ruling party, not an expansion of the opposition.
Correspondent Benedict Nhlapho reported from Johannesburg.
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai's thinly veiled criticism of South African President Thabo Mbeki in his comments to journalists sparked something of a diplomatic row with Pretoria. He said Mr. Mbeki should display more “courage” in relations with president Mugabe and urged him to abandon his policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe.
Both opposition formations say crisis talks opened with ZANU-PF in March 2007 were a failure. But South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad dismissed the contention that South African mediation in the talks had been fruitless, saying that if the talks had failed, Tsvangirai would not now be campaigning for president.
In an interview, Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Makoni's candidacy does not absolve him of his longtime ZANU-PF connection.