Zimbabwe Officials Plan Breakaway Party this Weekend

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Several senior ruling party officials here said they would launch a breakaway party this weekend amid a deadly cholera outbreak and mass starvation, putting further pressure on President Robert Mugabe as he clings to power.

The decision comes as a growing number of nations, including the U.S. and Great Britain, call for Mr. Mugabe to step down amid a deepening humanitarian crisis. The embattled leader is also facing further unrest at home as army soldiers, the cornerstone of his power, protest unpaid wages and poor living conditions.

Mr. Mugabe, in a rare concession, also said that he would accept new elections. The president has until now clung to his victory in a one-man election held in June. His rival, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, pulled out fearful for his supporters’ safety after winning most votes in an earlier round of voting — but not enough to win the election outright. Independent observers derided the June vote as a farce.

"Let’s settle things here," Mr. Mugabe said Thursday, speaking at the funeral of a friend. "We can go to an election if elections are desirable. The people are the deciders, and we will never reject their verdict. We have always accepted their verdict."

The new party isn’t likely to have much of a political impact, as most opponents of Mr. Mugabe are allied with Mr. Tsvangirai’s party. But it is a symbolic break. The Zimbabwe African People’s Union is named for a rival party that Mr. Mugabe once destroyed.

When he came to power in 1980, Mr. Mugabe unleashed a military brigade that massacred at least 20,000 ZAPU members and their supporters within eight years. The group finally agreed to join Mr. Mugabe’s party.

Since August, more than 700 people have died of cholera, according to the United Nations, sickened by contaminated water and unable to get proper care. Food is so scarce that many Zimbabweans have been reduced to scavenging for wild fruit or picking through trash heaps.

In recent weeks, hundreds of soldiers rampaged through parts of Harare and Mutare, looting markets and chanting slogans against the central bank governor, a close Mugabe ally. Mr. Mugabe has tried to keep the army happy, but that appears to be increasingly difficult for the cash-strapped government now.

Since Mr. Tsvangirai won the first-round of presidential elections in March, Mr. Mugabe has hunkered down. A power-sharing deal signed in September, ceding Mr. Tsvangirai some power, still exists only on paper.