Harare: Zimbabwe`s ruling ZANU-PF party suspended several senior officials aligned to Vice-President Joice Mujuru on Friday, weakening her position in an fierce battle to succeed ageing President Robert Mugabe.
A ZANU-PF politburo meeting, chaired by Mugabe, suspended National party spokesman Rugare Gumbo, expelled war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda and endorsed the suspension of half the party`s provincial chairmen, citing "disciplinary issues".
"All these decisions taken by the politburo are with immediate effect," ZANU-PF national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo told reporters, without giving details.
The suspended politicians were seen as Mugabe critics and have been accused by Mujuru`s rivals, including Mugabe`s wife Grace, of plotting a challenge to Africa`s oldest leader at a congress set for next month.
The 90-year-old, who has ruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980, has been nominated by all the party`s 10 provinces to retain his post as party president at a congress due in the first week of December.
Mujuru became Mugabe`s deputy 10 years ago and denies plotting against him, but political observers say her denials appear only to have fuelled a campaign in state media to discredit her with reports of extortion and abuse of office.
Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa are seen as Mugabe`s most likely successors when he leaves the political stage, experts say.
"It`s fair to say at this stage that the suspensions ... from the Mujuru camp have weakened her quite significantly," said Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mujuru, a former guerrilla known as "Spill Blood" during the 1970s independence war, and Mnangagwa, generally called "The Crocodile," have both served in Mugabe`s cabinet since 1980.
Mugabe won another five-year term last year in a vote condemned by the opposition as a fraud and questioned by the West.
He is eligible for a final term in 2018 but constant rumours about failing health have fanned an often vicious battle to succeed him within his ruling ZANU-PF party.
He has dismissed fears that Zimbabwe could descend into political chaos if he died in office.