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ZIMBABWE'S ruling Zanu PF party cut former finance minister Simba Makoni adrift Wednesday over his electoral bid to topple Robert Mugabe, saying he had "expelled himself" by taking on the veteran president.

As state media dismissed Makoni as a stooge of ex-colonial power Britain, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front secretary for legal affairs declared him persona non grata within the party.

"From Tuesday afternoon when he made the press conference, he left the party," Mnangagwa, who is also the rural housing minister, told Zimbabwe Television (ZTV).

"The position of president, the position of a councillor, MP or senator ... once the process has been carried out and you want to stand for the same position where the process of selection has been completed, you expel yourself."

Makoni announced at a press conference in the capital Harare on Tuesday that he would stand against Mugabe at joint presidential and parliamentary elections set for March 29 when the 83-year-old president will seek a sixth term.

The former minister said while he was running as an independent, he remained loyal to Zanu PF and would have liked to run under its colours.

Mugabe was confirmed as Zanu PF's candidate at a conference in December when talk of a challenge from within party ranks failed to materialise.

With the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change deeply divided, Makoni is hoping he will be the beneficiary of disillusionment over the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe. Official inflation is the highest in the world at more than 26,000 percent, while unemployment is around 80 percent.

The state-run Herald newspaper meanwhile claimed Makoni was part of a ploy by Britain to split the ruling party's vote and open the door to main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

"It is Britain's way of trying to 'level' the playing field," said the paper.

"As they say, when two dogs fight for a bone, it is the third dog which wins the fight and that dog in Whitehall's (Britain's) view is Tsvangirai who fled the liberation struggle."

The decision by Makoni to stand comes after Tsvangirai failed to reach agreement with rivals within his Movement for Democratic Change over who should contest the polls. - AFP
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