Loyalists of long-time Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have voted to oust members of a rival faction from their party, as a split in the forces battling President Robert Mugabe deepened.

The Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC) national council voted on Tuesday to expel ex-finance minister and party stalwart Tendai Biti and all members of a group who on Saturday voted to suspend Tsvangirai as leader.

The infighting leaves the MDC's future in serious doubt just months after it suffered a crushing electoral defeat at the hands of Mugabe.

In July the 90-year-old extended his 33-year rule despite serious doubts about the fairness of the poll.

Mugabe's victory prompted much soul searching among the opposition, which had reluctantly formed a power-sharing government with Mugabe for the four years before the election.

Biti, who had been secretary general of the party, had been among those who called for a more fierce opposition to Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.

Tsvangirai said there would be a party congress in October.

'Fuelling divisions'

He accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF of fuelling divisions in his party and insisted that the MDC still enjoyed popular support in the country.

"It does not make Mugabe stronger, far from it. Mugabe's strength cannot be based on power, it has to be based on popularity," he said.

"I don't believe President Mugabe has the popular support of the people of Zimbabwe."

Tsvangirai said all the three successive elections he lost to Mugabe were rigged.

"I have never lost an election in this land," he said. "The solid support that we enjoy in this country is unquestionable."

Tsvangirai said the Saturday meeting by Biti and his team was secretly planned without the knowledge of the party.

"They have betrayed the people. Their action speaks for itself, why would you clandestinely organise a meeting," he said.

"For a very long time we believed Tendai Biti believed in something, the man does not believe in anything other than his hypocrisy.

"He deceived us all. They have formed their own party and we wish them well. They cannot pretend that they are MDC," he added.

Source: Agencies