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Zimbabwe's Ruling Partners Differ Sharply Over Status of Libyan Ambassador

Sources said Libyan Ambassador Taher Elmagrahi angered top ZANU-PF officials including President Mugabe, who has long had personal ties to Gadhafi even if bilateral relations were not close

Zimbabwe's unity government partners have differed sharply over moves by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under pressure from hardliners in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF, to expel the Libyan ambassador after his declaration of loyalty to the rebel National Transitional Council seeking to wrest power from Moammar Gadhafi in a popular revolt.

Ambassador Taher Elmagrahi joined dozens of fellow Libyans this week in an anti-Ghadafi demonstration at his embassy, saying he no longer represented the Gadhafi government which had been driven out of Tripoli for the most part by the rebels.

The move prompted Foreign Affairs Ministry Permanent Secretary Joey Bimha to declare that Zimbabwe no longer recognized the Libyan envoy as he had walked away from the administration that posted him. Bimha indicated Elmagrahi could be expelled.

Sources said Elmagrahi angered top ZANU-PF officials including President Mugabe, who has personal ties to Gadhafi even if bilateral relations were not close.

But both formations of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change said they oppose action by Harare against Elmagrahi, arguing that he is representing the viewpoint of the majority of Libyans who are determined to shake off decades of Gadhafi rule.

The two MDC formations have governed the country since 2009 in an uneasy power sharing arrangement with President Mugabe's long-dominant ZANU-PF party.

ZANU-PF parliamentary whip Joram Gumbo insisted Friday that the envoy should be dismissed because Harare has not yet recognized the transitional council.

"The ambassador was not appointed by the NTC," Gumbo said. "He came here to present credentials from Ghadafi, so he can not claim that he has now changed automatically without any arrangement between ourselves and the Libyan government.

"So that means he must go back, and if he is reappointed by the new government which is recognized by the African Union, then Zimbabwe will not have any problem with that ambassador," Gumbo said.

But spokesman Nhlanhla Dube of the MDC wing led by Industry Minister Welshman Ncube said ZANU-PF's moves to expel Elmagrahi were unacceptable.

"As much as we don't want interference in our own country, we can't also interfere in the decisions and politics of other countries," Dube said.

The African Union, of which Gadhafi was a prominent member, has been reluctant to recognize the Libyan rebels, who have enjoyed NATO air support and other backing for months and were quickly embraced by most Western countries after taking control of Tripoli.

President Mugabe has often and bitterly condemned the NATO intervention in Libya as a Western neocolonialist incursion trampling on African sovereignty.

Spokesman Douglas Mwonzora of the MDC wing of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said expelling the ambassador would be tantamount to interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.

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