HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s president on Thursday expressed condolences over the death of longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and said upcoming elections must be free and fair “in tribute to him.”
Tsvangirai, who was the boldest opponent to longtime leader Robert Mugabe, died Wednesday in a Johannesburg hospital at age 65 after a long battle with cancer.
His death leaves Zimbabwe’s opposition in disarray with the first post-Mugabe elections approaching. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party met Thursday on the way forward while thousands of supporters gathered, singing songs of tribute.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe ally, said in a statement that consultations were underway about what the government can do to “accord the late departed befitting honor.”
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Mnangagwa has repeatedly promised fair elections as he seeks to attract foreign investment after years of international sanctions over alleged human rights abuses.
The MDC-T party said it has appointed Nelson Chamisa, a charismatic 40-year-old official, as acting leader. The party said it will meet again to choose a candidate for upcoming elections.
Chamisa said Tsvangirai’s legacy “is very much in safe hands.” He also criticized Mnangagwa’s government as a “militarily junta futilely disguised as a civilian administration.”
The military was instrumental in pressuring Mugabe to resign in November after 37 years in power, prompting the ruling party to turn against him amid anger that Mugabe’s unpopular wife appeared to be positioning herself to succeed him as president.