Police chief case could hurt S Africa's image-govt

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CAPE TOWN, Oct 11 (Reuters) President Thabo Mbeki's government supports South Africa's national police commissioner despite an arrest warrant for him but the case could damage the country's image, a cabinet spokesman said today.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has obtained an arrest warrant for Jackie Selebi but has said no action would be taken pending a review of the case.

''We are obviously concerned, like everybody else, about the potential damage that this could be causing to the image of the country,'' cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko told a media briefing.

''Confidence in the commissioner still exists in government,'' said Maseko, when asked if Mbeki still backed Selebi, who is also president of the international police organisation Interpol.

The NPA has said it had obtained an arrest warrant for Selebi but would not take any action until the case was reviewed.

South African media said the warrant had been issued in connection with alleged ties to crime syndicates. Selebi has denied any wrongdoing.

The case could influence the heated race to head the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which will choose a new leader at its December conference.

Selebi is a powerful figure in the party and analysts say Mbeki may need his support in the struggle for the ANC leadership, a stepping stone to South Africa's presidency.

Mbeki cannot serve as president again but nothing prevents him from remaining the head of the ANC, a position that could give him influence over the future of the country.

He is likely to face fierce competition from controversial politician Jacob Zuma, who may be recharged in a politically charged arms corruption case that has tarnished him.

Their rivary has helped plunge the party into its worst infighting since it led South Africa to its first multi-racial elections in 1994 after decades of apartheid.

Selebi has been criticised since the arrest last year of his friend businessman Glenn Agliotti in connection with the 2005 murder of mining magnate Brett Kebble.

Selebi denies having any financial links or any knowledge of Agliotti's alleged underworld connections. Agliotti denies any wrongdoing.

''The call is the president must suspend the national commissioner, and he said he is willing to do so only if he is presented with credible evidence,'' said Maseko.

''At this stage he has not been given a file by the NPA or anybody else that says: Here is the evidence, now is the time to act,'' Maseko said.

Reuters AE GC1905

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