S Africa unions back Zuma in ANC leadership race

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JOHANNESBURG, Sep 20 (Reuters) South Africa's powerful COSATU trade union federation said today it would back controversial politician Jacob Zuma in a leadership race for the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

''These are the people we have identified (as candidates) - Jacob Zuma for president,'' COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told a COSATU conference.

The position is seen as a stepping stone for the country's presidency.

The ANC, which led South Africa to its first democratic elections in 1994, will decide on a new leader at a party congress in December.

COSATU's decision to support Zuma could be a major blow to his rival, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who says he will stand for a third term as ANC leader if asked.

The constitution prevents Mbeki from serving a third term as the country's president but analysts say he hopes to remain leader of the ANC in a bid to retain influence in South Afria even after he steps down as head of state.

That is getting increasingly difficult as Mbeki comes under fire from COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP), part of a formal alliance with the ANC which has been strained by sharp differences over economic policies.

The presidential succession race has plunged the ANC into the worst factional fighting since it led South Africa to its first democratic elections in 1994.

Reuters SKB RN1710

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