From: Reuters
Published January 4, 2008 04:16 AM

Zuma vows to fight graft charges: report

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma has denied allegations of corruption and vowed to fight charges laid against him in court, local media reported on Friday.

"I am innocent. I have not committed any crime. I will fight to the bitter end in the highest courts to prove that," Zuma was quoted as saying in the Beeld newspaper.

Zuma, who won the African National Congress leadership in an election last month against incumbent Thabo Mbeki, has been charged with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.

He has said the accusations were part of a political campaign against him.

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The trial is set to start on August 4 and could overlap with national elections in 2009, adding to political uncertainty in Africa's biggest economy.

It could also scupper his chances of succeeding Mbeki as national leader in 2009, prompting accusations from himself and his backers -- powerful trade unions and the communist party -- of a political witchhunt.

A regional official from South Africa's trade union federation COSATU warned this week that blood may "be spilt" if the case proceeded, although a national spokesman later said the group would never condone violence.

But Zuma urged calm should the National Prosecuting Authority proceed with the trial.

"No, no, no. That is exactly what I do not want. I do not want people to die or that shops and cars be set alight. I do not want any violence," he said.

"I understand the anger of the people because I am also deeply unhappy by the latest move by the NPA. But there are other, legal ways in which they can make their opinions known and to express their displeasure."

The indictment comes more than a year after an earlier corruption case collapsed on procedural grounds, although the NPA has continued to probe allegations he accepted bribes in connection with an arms deal involving a French company.

The charges include new allegations linked to dealings with his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who is serving a 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption.

Mbeki fired Zuma as national deputy president in 2005, after Shaik's conviction, sparking some of the worst infighting in the ANC's history.

(Reporting by Gordon Bell, editing by Marius Bosch and Mary Gabriel)

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