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South Africa president steps down

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Mbeki announces resignation

Thabo Mbeki has formally resigned as the president of South Africa, a day after accepting a call by the governing African National Congress to quit.

In a televised address, Mr Mbeki said he had handed a resignation letter to the speaker of the National Assembly.

He said he would leave his post as soon as a new president was chosen.

Correspondents say it is not clear who will succeed him, but the ANC appears to favour the parliamentary speaker, Baleka Mbete, as acting president.

Mr Mbeki's speech followed an emergency cabinet meeting. He is stepping down before his final term expires next year.

I have been a loyal member of the African National Congress for 52 years... and therefore respect its decisions
Thabo Mbeki

The move comes days after a high court judge suggested that Mr Mbeki may have interfered in a corruption case against his rival, ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

But during his address, Mr Mbeki made an impassioned defence of his position.

There had been no effort at all to meddle with the judicial process, he said. And Mr Mbeki dismissed any suggestion he had been trying to shape the judgement for his own political ends.

The BBC's Karen Allen, in Johannesburg, said this was a very measured and reflective speech.

Mr Mbeki began by saying that the ANC would decide the date of his leaving.

"I have been a loyal member of the African National Congress for 52 years. I remain a member of the ANC, and therefore respect its decisions," he said.

This was a very clear signal that he like so many others is keen to make the transition as smooth as possible, our correspondent says.

Mr Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as president in 1999, thanked the nation and his party, the ANC, for giving him the opportunity to serve in public office.

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Thabo Mbeki's political career

He went on to list some of his achievements, notably the country's solid economic growth.

He said there was still much to be done in South Africa, and he urged the incoming leadership to continue to combat poverty and social injustice.

"Trying times need courage and resilience. Our strength as a people is not tested during the best of times… For South Africa to succeed there is more work to be done and I trust that we will continue to strive to act in unity," he said.

'For stability'

Parliament is likely to meet in the coming days to formalise his resignation, and select a caretaker leader.

Jacob Zuma (file photo)

Mr Zuma is widely expected to succeed Mr Mbeki in scheduled elections next year.

The decision to call for Mr Mbeki's early resignation was taken at a meeting of the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC).

The ANC's secretary general said the decision to seek Mr Mbeki's early departure as president had been taken for "stability and for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa".

This was not punishment for Mr Mbeki, Gwede Mantashe told reporters on Saturday, adding that the president would be given the chance to continue his role as mediator in Zimbabwe.

ANC cabinet members are being urged to remain in government to ensure continued stability.

Political interference

Mr Mbeki fired Jacob Zuma as deputy president in 2005 after his financial adviser was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on his behalf.

But Mr Zuma returned to the political stage to topple his rival as ANC leader in bitterly contested elections last year.

Earlier this month a High Court judge dismissed corruption and other charges against Mr Zuma, saying there was evidence of political interference in the investigation.

In his ruling the judge said it appeared that Mr Mbeki had colluded with prosecutors against Jacob Zuma as part of the "titanic power struggle" within the ANC.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Mbeki has definitely done what he had to do as a responsible ANC member
Tilak, Nepal

The accusation was strongly denied by Mr Mbeki.

Mr Mbeki became leader of South Africa in 1999 and won a second term in 2004.

Perhaps his biggest policy success has been South Africa's rapid economic growth since the end of apartheid and the rise of a black middle class - but to the anger of many, wealth is more unevenly distributed than ever before.

He has failed to convince the trade unions and the poorest South Africans that the government has acted in their interest - providing space for Mr Zuma to mobilise a powerful constituency.

Domestically, his government's handling of the HIV/Aids crisis and failure to stem violent crime in the country also weakened his hand.




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