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Mugabe opponent begins Zimbabwe presidential campaign

.- A former finance minister and senior member of Zimbabwe’s ruling party has emerged as a challenger to President Robert Mugabe’s 28 years of continuous rule, Cybercast News Service reports.

Simba Makoni told a press conference in Harare that he was standing as an independent candidate for president in the March 29 election.  He was expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party on Wednesday, but is winning support from party members.  Former army commander Solomon Mujuru, the husband of the current vice-president, has announced his support for Makoni’s candidacy.

Makoni could also win over some members of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has split into factions along ethnic and regional lines.  The MDC has put forward its own presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Makoni appealed to all opponents of Mugabe at his press conference.  "We should be decent enough to come up with a unified position instead of fighting among ourselves," he said. "There will be many of us, a great many of us," he said, according to Cybercast News Service.

Makoni studied chemistry and read his doctorate in Britain, and was removed as finance minister in 2002 for disagreeing with some of Mugabe’s policies.  He remained a member of the party’s decision-making body, the politburo.

ZANU-PF supporters have accused Makoni of promoting a “neo-liberal” economic agenda of Western countries.

A powerful group of so-called “war veterans” opposes Makoni’s candidacy.  They are associated with the struggle for black majority rule, benefiting from the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000.  They are largely staunch Mugabe supporters.

According to Cybercast News Service, on Thursday, the group called Makoni a “traitor,” noting that the ruling party “has a history of dealing harshly” with such people.

Mugabe has presided over severe economic failures.  His land redistribution program resulted in acute food shortages and contributed to an inflation rate that according to the International Monetary Fund averages 150,000 percent.  Hundreds of thousands of economic refugees from Zimbabwe are flooding neighboring South Africa.

Mugabe blames western sanctions for the economic collapse of his country.

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