HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) " Zimbabwe's ruling party on Tuesday started a key congress at which President Robert Mugabe is poised to consolidate his grip on power by appointing a new set of loyalists, including his wife Grace.

Grace Mugabe is set to take over as the head of the ZANU-PF party's women's league at the conference, which will last for several days. Mugabe's wife has increasingly criticized Vice President Joice Mujuru, whose political influence has waned. Party officials seen as Mujuru's allies have been stripped of their posts.

The state-run Sunday Mail newspaper alleged that Mujuru was involved in an assassination plot against the 90-year-old president. Mujuru, a member of Mugabe's inner circle since the 1970s independence war, denied the allegations, saying she was prepared to defend herself in court.

Several Mugabe loyalists have said they would physically bar Mujuru and her allies from attending the meeting.


Party chairman Simon Khaya Moyo has confirmed that the party will adopt sweeping changes to its constitution, abolishing internal party elections and giving Mugabe greater power to make appointments.

Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980.