South African president Mbeki quits

South African President Thabo Mbeki has told his nation he has formally resigned, effective as soon as a new president is chosen.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has told his nation he has formally resigned, effective as soon as a new president is chosen.

Mr Mbeki spoke in a nationally televised address tonight. A day earlier, his African National Congress had called on him to resign. He is leaving before his second and last constitutionally allowed term expires next year.

Parliament will convene in the coming days to select an interim president before elections, which are scheduled for next year.

Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the National Assembly and chairwoman of the ANC, is expected to take over.

In his address Mr Mbeki told his nation he did not interfere in attempts to prosecute a rival.

Mr Mbeki’s alleged role in the corruption case against African National Congress Jacob Zuma led his party to call on him to step down.

Mr Mbeki said “categorically” that he had never interfered in the work of prosecutors. He said that included “the painful matter” of the Zuma case.

The 66-year-old head of state lost the final battle yesterday in a long power struggle with his former deputy Zuma.

Mbeki looked sombre in the television address and his eyes glistened as he finished.

He thanked South Africans for letting him serve in office and said he was confident the incoming administration would tackle poverty facing the country.

“We should never be despondent if the weather is bad, nor should we turn triumphant because the sun shines,” he said.

A senior ANC official, Matthews Phosa, said the party had asked the Cabinet to remain on the job.

“We want the Cabinet to stay,” Phosa said. “We want stability and we want them to stay ... but we cannot enforce things upon them,” he said.

Early indications were that most Cabinet ministers had agreed to stay on rather than quit in solidarity with Mbeki.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel – important to investor confidence in South Africa – has said he will continue in the job.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said yesterday that the party hoped to end its internal wrangling and focus on the elections. The ANC enjoys a huge majority and is expected to romp to victory. But there had been speculation that Mbeki loyalists might try to set up a rival party.

Although Mbeki’s removal came more quickly than many people expected, South Africans had been anticipating a shift from Mbeki to Zuma at least since last December, when Zuma defeated the president in an election for the ANC leadership.

Mbeki fired Zuma as his national deputy president in 2005, after Zuma’s financial adviser was convicted of trying to elicit a bribe to deflect investigations into the arms deal.

Initial charges against Zuma were withdrawn, but the chief prosecutor said last December that he had enough evidence to bring new ones. A judge threw out the new charges last week and implied they were the result of political interference.

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