HARARE - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has accused "a woman" in his party of a plot to unseat him and work with the opposition in a coalition government, state media reported on Wednesday, in comments seen as directed at his embattled deputy, Joice Mujuru.
Mujuru, a battle-hardened guerrilla nicknamed "Spill Blood", has faced accusations from Mugabe's wife Grace and state-owned media of corruption and plotting to kill Mugabe in what analysts say is a smear campaign to end her immediate political career.
Mugabe, 90, has ruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980 and accuses the West, especially London and Washington, of funding the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to remove him from power.
Mugabe on Tuesday told a meeting of military commanders and veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war that jostling for power in his ruling ZANU-PF had reached unprecedented levels.
"We are experiencing it for the first time in ZANU-PF, and for that matter it's a woman who is saying, 'I want to take over that seat'," Mugabe said in remarks carried by the government mouthpiece, The Herald.
"We know the discussions that have been done, 'Oh, we will link up with the MDC and America and Britain will pour lots of money.' You know, that simplistic thinking," Mugabe added, questioning whether Mujuru could handle the pressures of his job.
Mujuru, who leads a ZANU-PF group that is viewed as moderate and pro-business, has denied plotting against Mugabe.
Mugabe was forced to form a unity government after disputed elections in 2008, but his party won a landslide in last year's vote, which the opposition say was fraudulent.
The veteran leader told the meeting he felt humiliated to work with the MDC, which he berates as stooges of the West.
He said Mujuru opposed holding elections last year, seeking to continue in the coalition government that is credited with ending a decade of economic collapse and hyperinflation.
ZANU-PF started its five-yearly congress on Tuesday and Mugabe is under pressure from ZANU-PF young people and women to drop Mujuru. Mujuru did not attend the first day of the congress.