June 27, 2018 / 7:43 AM / 5 months ago

Zimbabwe president tells BBC suspects political faction was behind rally blast

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he suspected dissidents from his own party linked to the wife of his predecessor Robert Mugabe were behind an explosion at a rally he attended last week.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa attends a ceremony at the Hwange Hydropower expansion project in Hwange, Zimbabwe, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Two people died in the blast that rocked a stadium in Bulawayo as 75-year-old Mnangagwa left the podium.

Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe in a bloodless coup in November, told the BBC on Wednesday he believed the attack had been carried out by the G40 group — a faction in the ruling ZANU-PF party which wanted Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband.

He did not accuse Grace Mugabe of being involved in the plan but said he expected arrests to be made soon.

Main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said he feared the government would use the incident as a pretext to clamp down on opponents.

“I don’t know whether it was one individual, I would think it is broader than one person. I would think this is a political action by some aggrieved persons,” Mnangagwa told the BBC.

Mnangagwa cancelled a rally on Wednesday organised by local ZANU-PF officials in Hwange town, 350 km from Bulawayo, which would have been the first since the blast. He did not give a reason.

He also announced that a coal-fired power plant in Hwange would be expanded via a $1.5 billion Chinese-funded project that will add 600 MW to the national grid.

During 94-year-old Mugabe’s final months in office, the G40 faction accused Mnangagwa, who was then vice president, of plotting with the military to grab power.

Mugabe fired Mnangagwa as his deputy in November last year, but top army generals intervened days later, sent tanks into the streets, took over government buildings and eventually forced Mugabe to resign.

Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for nearly four decades, later accused Mnangagwa of betrayal and said his presidency was illegal.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Catherine Evans

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