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Despite setback, Mbeki will stay on

He will remain as South Africa's president after losing his post as leader of the ruling party.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - President Thabo Mbeki told the nation yesterday that he has no plans to step down or implement any new policies in the aftermath of this week's rowdy conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, which elected his populist rival, Jacob Zuma, to replace him as party leader.

Zuma was backed by labor activists and socialists, who long have complained Mbeki was too conservative fiscally and neglected South Africa's millions of poor people.

The resulting split in power - with Mbeki remaining as the country's president with 16 months left in his term, and Zuma leading the ruling party - has caused unease in a nation accustomed to political stability and predictable economic policies.

Both men now have said such concerns are unfounded, and even Zuma has pledged that the government status quo would not change.

"Quite correctly, he said nothing would happen, and indeed nothing would happen," Mbeki said in a nationally televised news conference from the lawn of his official residence in Pretoria.

Mbeki disputed news reports that said he would resign or be forced from power by Zuma in the weeks ahead. "I would expect the government would serve its term until the elections in 2009," he said.

Mbeki appeared relaxed following the five-day conference, where thousands of delegates expressed their rejection of him in boisterous songs and dance.

He called such displays "quite unacceptable to all of us in the leadership of the ANC" and lamented shortcomings in the "political education" of party members.

Many delegates to the conference, which concluded Thursday night in the northern city of Polokwane, complained that Mbeki was aloof, out of touch, and prone to making decisions without consulting even political allies.

Asked about such frustrations, Mbeki replied, "I wouldn't understand what



The battle between Zuma and Mbeki, which dates to Mbeki's 2005 firing of Zuma as deputy president of the nation over corruption allegations, has consumed South African politics. Their electoral contest was the first open struggle for the party's presidency in half a century.

While Zuma's election has made Mbeki a lame duck, the balance of power is far from clear. National prosecutors said Thursday that they would shortly decide whether to file new corruption charges against Zuma.

A conviction would prevent Zuma from becoming president of South Africa, something that otherwise would be all but assured for the party's leader because of the ANC's dominance of national politics. The more immediate problem may be how a new round of criminal charges would affect his leadership position in the party.

At a news conference Thursday, Zuma repeatedly declined to say whether he would step down if forced to fight charges in court, saying, "There's no charge. There's no case."

In his remarks yesterday, Mbeki also declined to comment on the merits of the case but said the party would have to consider Zuma's situation again if charges were filed.

Mbeki remains an ex-officio member of the party's ruling committee, though its broader membership tilted heavily toward Zuma supporters in the elections. "If he gets charged and has to appear in court, I don't know how we would handle that matter. It hasn't been discussed," Mbeki said.