Zimbabwe’s military is said to have taken control of the country on Wednesday, even though the military generals have denied staging a coup. The military said that it was targeting “criminals” close to President Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe’s decades-long grip on power was weakened as military vehicles blocked roads outside the parliament in Harare and senior soldiers delivered a late-night state television address to the nation.
“We wish to assure the nation that his excellency the president… and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,” Major General Sibusiso Moyo said, while reading out a statement.
“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes… As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
Moyo said “this is not a military takeover of government”.
Mugabe is said to have spoken to his close ally and South African President Jacob Zuma, who claimed that Mugabe was under house arrest.
Mugabe “indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine,” the South African government said in a statement.
Tensions between the Mugabe and the military, which has long helped prop up his authoritarian rule, have erupted in public in recent days. The ruling ZANU-PF party on Tuesday accused army chief General Constantino Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct” after he criticised Mugabe for sacking Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa’s dismissal left Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, in prime position to succeed her husband as the next president — a succession strongly opposed by senior ranks in the military.
Mugabe, who is now 93, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.
As the situation deteriorated overnight, prolonged gunfire was heard near Mugabe’s private residence. The US embassy warned its citizens in the country to “shelter in place” due to “ongoing political uncertainty”.
(With inputs from agencies)