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Political Fate of South African President Thabo Mbeki Up in the Air

The fate of President Thabo Mbeki hung in the balance Friday, as the ruling African National Congress's top decision-making body met to decide if he should be forced out of office.

Mbeki was due to stand down after 10 years in office next year, but he has lost a prolonged power struggle to the man most assume will be South Africa's next president, former Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

Mbeki's possible ouster threatens to cause turmoil in Africa's economic giant as well as the political party that has dominated the South African landscape since apartheid ended 14 years ago.

Militant Zuma supporters headed by the ANC and Communist Youth Leagues want to force Mbeki out before his term ends. They are calling for the ANC — to which the 66-year-old Mbeki has belonged since he was 14 years old — to throw him out of the party as well as out of office.

"It's all out war," The Star newspaper declared Friday.

The ANC's National Executive Committee scheduled a news conference Friday evening, prompting speculation that it had decided to give Mbeki the push — or he had agreed to jump.

But ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said there was nothing to report from the meeting, and that discussions would continue.

"We came to tell you that there is nothing to tell you. The debate is not concluded," he said — indicating there were deep divisions within the 86-member executive.

He said Mbeki was not at the meeting. Mbeki was voted off the executive in December, but is an ex officio member and so entitled to attend.