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By Staff Reporters

ZIMBABWE'S Information Minister Jonathan Moyo dropped a bombshell Friday by filing papers to stand as an indepedent parliamentary candidate in Tsholotsho constituency after being snubbed by the ruling Zanu PF party.

Moyo is now expected to resign as Minister, if he has not already done so. He has not spoken about his decision.

Correspondents, meanwhile, report that the jailed opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP for Chimanimani Roy Bennett had his papers rejected.

Clad in a gray suit, Moyo walked in 15 minutes before the end of the nomination court sitting at the Large City Hall in Bulawayo.

As he opened a brief case containing his documents, Moyo, looking relaxed, jokingly remarked to registrar Willard Sayenda: "This is not the budget briefcase."

A crowd of curious onlookers gathered at the nomination court to catch a glimpse of Moyo -- a man reviled by many in Zimbabwe for crafting draconian legislation and shutting down independent newspapers, but hero-worshipped in parts of Matabeleland for his development projects.

An onlooker was heard shouting: "Uyindoda (You are a man). We need more men like you."

After his confirmation, a crowd of people, including some known MDC supporters jostled to shake his hand as he walked to his Mercedes Benz parked outside the hall.

Tsholotsho district, where the 48-year-old former university lecturer was born, is about 70km west of Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo.

Moyo fell out of favour with Zanu PF after he was accused of attempting a palace coup. He was consequently dropped from the Zanu PF politburo and central committee. It was largely expected he would be dropped from the Cabinet at the next Cabinet reshuffle, and analysts say his decision to stand as an independent has pre-empted President Robert Mugabe.

"We have decided that as independents we must network and not work against each other."

Our correspondent who was at the nomination court sitting in Bulawayo reports that Moyo was briefly sat next to the MDC candidate for Tsholotsho, MP in the last parliament, Mtoliki Sibanda, only talking to greet him.

Moyo is thought to have formed a loose coalition of politicians in Matabeleland, drawn from disgruntled elements from both the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition MDC.

Among those is the outgoing MP for Hwange East Peter Nyoni who lost in MDC primaries. Also in the coalition are Bulawayo councillors Charles Mpofu and Stars Mathe Thebe who were recently suspended from the MDC.

Speaking to New, Mpofu confirmed that Moyo was behind the coalition of independents. Said Mpofu: "We have decided that as independents we must network and not work against each other."

Hundreds of candidates, mainly from Zanu PF and the main opposition MDC, registered on Friday with electoral courts around Zimbabwe to compete for 120 parliamentary seats at stake in the March 31 polls.

Zimbabwe's parliament is made up of 150 members, but under the southern African country's current electoral laws, 20 of the seats are reserved for presidential appointees and 10 for traditional chiefs, drawn from ZANU-PF's rural strongholds.

The MDC, which was formed five years ago and remains the biggest political challenge to Mugabe's rule, won nearly half the elected 120 seats in the last parliamentary elections in 2000, but Mugabe boosted his numbers with the 30 reserved seats.

Political analysts say while Mugabe is campaigning for a two-thirds majority in the new parliament, growing divisions and unprecedented quarrels in ZANU-PF ranks over his likely successor have left the party weaker.

"It's too early in the campaign to see whether he will get that number (100)," said Lovemore Madhuku, a political commentator and chairman of political pressure group National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).
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