Tsvangirai has faced a treason trial and a severe beating by security forces [AFP]

Morgan Tsvangirai, a former national trade union boss, is the leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

 

On his party's official website, Tsvangirai, 56, is described as "a self-made person, a solid administrator, competent thinker, charismatic leader, democratic team player and above all, a compassionate family man".

 

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president and the leader of the governing Zanu-PF party, sees him as an opponent who will just not go away.

 

However, Tsvangirai has pulled out of a run-off election for the country's presidency, ending his bid to challenge Mugabe once more.

 

The MDC says their supporters have had to face violent intimidation by loyalists of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, is behind his decision to pull out.

 

Political rival

 

Tsvangirai has been a constant political thorn in the side of the president since forming the MDC in 1999.

 

Mugabe has repeatedly branded him a traitor and he has faced three charges of treason, as well as suffering several beatings at the hands of the Zimbabwean authorities.

 

Tsvangirai has been a thorn in Mugabe's side since he set up the MDC [AFP]

Police intervention at a prayer rally organised by opposition supporters in Harare last year reportedly left one person dead and Tsvangirai suffering from serious head injuries.

 

Tsvangirai was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks as far back as 1989, when he was accused of being a South African spy.

 

Treason charges filed after the 2000 presidential election were subsequently dropped and in 2004 he was acquitted of treason for his alleged role part in what was said to be a plot to assassinate Mugabe.

 

Tsvangirai was alleged to have been discussing the plot with Ari Ben-Menashe, a former lobbyist for the Mugabe government who described the MDC leader as "stupid" for even talking to him.

 

Electoral defeat in 2000 was repeated in the presidential vote of 2002 and the MDC lost further ground in parliamentary elections in 2005.

 

Election breakthrough

 

But in the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai appeared to have made a breakthrough.

 

He won the first round of voting in the presidential election, although without securing the outright majority needed to claim the presidency, and his MDC took control of parliament.

 

However, camapigning for the second round run-off was marred by violence and intimidation and Tsvangirai pulled out saying he did not want to put his supporters at risk on polling day.

 

The eldest of nine children of a bricklayer in the central Gutu area of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai rose through Zimbabwe's mining unions to become the secretary-general of the Zimbabwean trade union congress in 1988.

 

He has survived three assassination attempts, including being thrown out of the window of his tenth-floor office in 1997.

 

Some opposition members have criticised Tsvangirai's passive attitude, which has helped avoid serious civil unrest in Zimbabwe but earned his party little electoral headway.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies