Reuters International

A supporter of the ruling party Zanu PF gestures outside the party headquarters to show support for President Robert Mugabe following a wave of anti-governement protests over the last two weeks in Harare, Zimbabwe July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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By Cris Chinaka

HARARE (Reuters) - Thousands of Zimbabweans rallied in support of President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday, days after war veterans called the 92-year-old a corrupt dictator, highlighting manoeuvring over the ZANU-PF leader's succession and anger over growing hardships.

Supporters dressed in ZANU-PF colours, some holding portraits of Mugabe, sang and danced at the party headquarters in response to a call to demonstrate their unwavering support.

"Gushungo forever and ever," said James Mushonga, 58, referring to Mugabe by his clan name.

"Mugabe is our hero and those who are criticising him from our ranks are sellouts who must be banished. In my view Mugabe should be allowed to die in office."

Mugabe was expected to address the rally later in the day.

The veterans, who fought against white minority rule in former Rhodesia, turned on their commander last week, saying he had "devoured" the values of the liberation struggle.

Zimbabwe's government said their statement amounted to treason and they would be punished.

As senior members of the ruling ZANU-PF party manoeuvre for advantage in a post-Mugabe era, two factions have emerged, one linked to Mugabe's wife Grace and one for Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, backed by the powerful war veterans.

If Mugabe dies in office with no clear successor, analysts say the country might descend into political chaos and violence.

One of Africa's longest serving leaders, Mugabe is eligible to seek re-election at the end of his five-year term in 2018.

Political infighting has been exacerbated by an economic crisis, widely blamed on mismanagement and, more recently, the effects of a region-wide drought.

Public anger over inflation, unemployment and other hardships has poured out into the streets in a nation-wide protest movement this month.

(Editing by Joe Brock and Louise Ireland)

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