Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Zimbabwe's main opposition movement, has been suspended along with other senior party officials for "fascist" tendencies and failing to oust President Robert Mugabe, a faction of the opposition announced.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said on Saturday that it suspended the former prime minister, his deputy Thokozani Khupe, chairperson Lovemore Moyo and four other senior party officials, deepening divisions in the opposition ranks.
The group led by Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, accused Tsvangirai and his lieutenants of resisting a leadership change after losing a third general election to Mugabe last July and of using violence against internal challengers.
"The MDC as we know it has abandoned its original founding values and principles," it said in a statement. "The party has been hijacked by a dangerous fascist clique bent on destroying the same and totally working against the working people of Zimbabwe."
The group also said Tsvangirai had violated the MDC's constitution by expelling deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma, after he suggested Tsvangirai should step down as leader of the party following last year's election defeat to veteran ruler, 90-year-old Robert Mugabe.
The party's treasurer Roy Bennett, who is exiled in South Africa, and other officials have also made similar calls for Tsvangirai to resign after losing to Mugabe in the July 31 general elections, igniting tensions within the group.
Tsvangirai's faction, however, immediately dismissed the move as unconstitutional and meaningless.
"The MDC leadership cannot be changed by a bunch of desperate power-hungry officials, a minority that cannot win a leadership contest at party congress," national party spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told reporters, calling the suspension a legal nullity.
"That meeting is a culmination of a sustained covert programme involving state security, Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and a few malcontents to destabilise the MDC," he said.
The MDC, formed in 1999 by an alliance of trade unions and civic groups, has been seen as the most credible challenger to Mugabe's grip on power. The 62-year-old Tsvangirai has led the MDC since its formation.
But it has been riven by tensions since Tsvangirai was beaten at the polls last year.