Two veteran dissidents have clashed over control of an illegal opposition party. Ren Wanding yesterday accused Xu Wenli of being power-hungry in a row which has highlighted the split in the democracy movement. Mr Ren and Mr Xu began their individual campaigns for democratic reform 20 years ago. Though they are far from close friends, the two have never pointed fingers at each other in public. The dispute centres on the China Democracy Party, which dissidents have been trying to establish since June to challenge the ruling Communist Party's monopoly. Dissidents throughout the mainland have tried to register the party but without success. Instead, many party supporters have been temporarily detained. In a lengthy statement, Mr Ren accused Mr Xu of a 'coup d'etat' to 'win command of the central leadership' of the party. 'Xu has been politically profiteering and stepping on others to take command of the party's efforts to set up a branch in Beijing, and raping the democratic party,' Mr Ren said. But Mr Xu said he was elected as chairman of the Beijing branch when he publicly announced its formation on November 9. 'Zha Jianguo and Gao Hongming were, at the same time, elected as the vice-chairmen,' Mr Xu said. But Mr Ren said his own faction had been trying to establish the party in the capital long before Mr Xu announced the creation of the branch. Mr Xu accused Mr Ren of not making a 'concrete contribution' to the democracy movement in recent years. 'Ren has a history of attacking other dissidents, including me and Wei Jingsheng, after he was released from jail in 1996,' Mr Xu said. Dissidents both at home and in exile have long been divided over tactics and personal affiliations. Mr Ren said: 'I want activists inside and outside the country to know about the sickness [of the democracy movement] and that it needs curing.' But the split did not worry Mr Xu, who believed political struggles were unavoidable and made people mature. 'I hope Mr Ren can do something to make the Communist Party afraid, but not do such things that make the Communist Party happy.'