HARARE (AFP) - President Robert Mugabe's increasingly powerful wife Grace has threatened Zimbabwe's vice-president with expulsion from the ruling party, throwing a fierce succession battle into the open.
But the first lady said she is not angling for vice-president and one-time Mugabe heir-apparent Joice Mujuru's post although she used the "war" in a rally.
"I told the President that if you don't dump that faction leader we will dump her ourselves," Grace Mugabe said on the campaign trail, referring to Mujuru.
Mujuru and powerful Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa - who in the past controlled the secret police and military - are seen as the leading contenders to replace 90-year-old Mugabe when he steps down or dies.
But Grace Mugabe's recent entry into politics, swift rise to power within the ruling ZANU-PF and ferocious attacks on Mujuru, have raised the prospect that the Vice-President's star is waning.
It has also raised speculation that Mugabe could be grooming his wife to take over when he dies.
"We campaigned for you (Mujuru) not only last year, but over the years, but now it is war because I have been nominated," said Grace Mugabe, 49, who is set to become head of ZANU-PF's influential women's league.
"I never said I want anyone's position" she told party supporters at her final rally in Marondera, east of the capital, on Friday.
Grace Mugabe accused Mujuru - the widow of the late liberation war army commander Solomon Mujuru - of leading a faction vying for power, and demanded she apologise.
"You cannot continue denying that you lead a faction every day. Wherever you are, go together with your cronies, go and apologise before it is too late because the President is also fed up," Grace Mugabe said.
She also accused Mujuru of supporting the opposition.
"The person who is leading a faction... the (opposition) MDC was formed at their home... We don't want people who pretend to be good. Such people are political prostitutes.
"You undermine Mugabe, who put you in that position you hold today."
Grace Mugabe's comments would appear to be an opening gambit in the end game to succeed her husband.
ZANU-PF will hold a crunch elective congress in December.
Robert Mugabe is expected to be confirmed as the party's leader, but the fight for positions on the powerful politburo could be decisive.
Mugabe has been in power since 1980 and has long avoided appointing a successor.
Grace Mugabe has also accused Mujuru of spreading rumours about her involvement in Zimbabwe's lucrative diamond trade.
Although wracked by seemingly interminable economic crisis, Zimbabwe is home to one of the world's largest diamond fields.
Many of the proceeds are thought to bypass state coffers straight into the pockets of connected politicians and the military.
The Mujuru family owns River Ranch diamond mine in southern Zimbabwe close to the border with South Africa.
"The person leading factions is the same person who accuses me of being involved in diamond deals, yet it is they who own a diamond mine," Grace Mugabe said.
"That person also moves around saying I want to acquire money using unscrupulous means when it is known that I started my business from scratch," she added.
Uncertainty over Mugabe's succession and concern over his age and failing health have divided the government and stalled growth in the ailing economy, with investors adopting a wait and see attitude.