Zimbabwe's vice president, once seen as a possible successor to President Robert Mugabe, has been linked to an alleged plot to assassinate the 90-year-old leader, a state-run newspaper reported Sunday.

An ally of Vice President Joice Mujuru who was recently ousted from his post as ruling party spokesman said the allegations that he conspired against Mugabe are false. Rugare Gumbo, the ousted spokesman, was identified in The Sunday Mail as a plotter against Mugabe, who has been in power since independence in 1980.

The Sunday Mail cited a voice recording and reported comments as evidence of the alleged plot but it did not attribute the information to security officials or other sources.

Political factions are maneuvering for influence ahead of the annual ruling party congress next month. Mujuru has come under repeated verbal attacks from the president's wife, Grace.

Grace Mugabe has assumed an increasingly political role, angering some party insiders who believe she does not have leadership credentials in a country struggling with high unemployment and other social problems.

Gumbo said Robert Mugabe lambasted him during a meeting of senior leaders of the ruling ZANU-PF party on Thursday night.

"We were accused of attempting to overthrow the president and it was the president himself who led the charges," Zimbabwe's Daily News quoted Gumbo as saying. "He says `we have done wrong and should leave the party,' but this is just a smear campaign to eliminate people who are standing by the vice president."

Another alleged conspirator named by The Sunday Mail is Didymus Mutasa, a high-ranking official in the ruling party. Without citing sources, the newspaper said another alleged plotter had met "potential hitmen" in South Africa and Israel.

Mugabe has often accused foreign powers, particularly Britain and the United States, of trying to undermine him. Western leaders have criticized Mugabe's human rights record.