SAfrica president suspends public prosecutor chief

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JOHANNESBURG, Sep 24 (Reuters) South African President Thabo Mbeki has suspended the head of the country's public prosecuting agency because of a ''breakdown'' in his relationship with the justice minister, the government said today.

The suspension of Vusi Pikoli as national director of public prosecutions is effective immediately, government spokesman Themba Maseko said in a statement. Mokotedi Mpshe, currently Pikoli's deputy, will take over the duties.

The move came amid a bitter turf war between the police and the Scorpions, an elite police unit that was under Pikoli's control, which had escalated to the cabinet level and soured relations with Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla.

Mabandla had sided with the police, arguing that they were the superior crime-fighting force.

''The relationship breakdown had adverse implications for the NPA and the functioning of the criminal justice system,'' the statement said. It added that the change would not compromise the pursuit of justice, especially the battle to reduce sky-high levels of violent crime.

There was no comment from Pikoli.

The Democratic Alliance, the country's main opposition party, called on parliament to investigate the matter.

The move also followed allegations that the Scorpions had been overzealous in pursuing a corruption case against African National Congress Deputy President Jacob Zuma and had attempted to smear the presidential hopeful.

Supporters of Zuma, who is vying to succeed Mbeki as ANC president at a leadership conference in December, contend that senior government officials have been conspiring to deny Zuma the presidency.

The Zuma camp was particularly furious earlier this year when a mysterious report suggested his presidential campaign was being financed by Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

A corruption case against Zuma collapsed last year for procedural reasons. But prosecutors are pushing ahead with the investigation and are expected to charge him again with bribery and fraud in connection with a government arms deal.

Zuma was acquitted of rape in a separate trial earlier in 2006.

Reuters GT DB2152

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