Mu­gabe ‘safe’ as army takes power

The Dominion Post - - World -

ZIM­BABWE: Zim­babwe’s army says it has Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe and his wife in cus­tody and is se­cur­ing gov­ern­ment of­fices and pa­trolling the streets of the cap­i­tal, Harare, fol­low­ing a night of un­rest that in­cluded a mil­i­tary takeover of the state broad­caster.

The ac­tion yes­ter­day trig­gered spec­u­la­tion of a coup, but the mil­i­tary’s sup­port­ers praised it as a ‘‘blood­less cor­rec­tion’’.

Armed sol­diers in ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers sta­tioned them­selves at key points in Harare, while Zim­bab­weans formed long lines at banks in or­der to with­draw the lim­ited cash avail­able, a rou­tine chore in the coun­try’s on­go­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Peo­ple looked at their phones to read about the army takeover, and oth­ers went to work or to shops.

In an ad­dress to the na­tion af­ter tak­ing con­trol of the Zim­babwe Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, an army spokesman said the mil­i­tary was tar­get­ing ‘‘crim­i­nals’’ around Mu­gabe, and sought to re­as­sure the coun­try that or­der would be re­stored.

It was not clear where Mu­gabe, 93, and his wife, Grace, were, but it seems they are in the cus­tody of the mil­i­tary.

‘‘Com­rade R G Mu­gabe and his fam­ily are safe and sound, and their se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘We wish to make it abun­dantly clear that this is not a mil­i­tary takeover,’’ the army state­ment said. ‘‘We are only tar­get­ing crim­i­nals around [Mu­gabe] who are com­mit­ting crimes that are caus­ing so­cial and eco­nomic suf­fer­ing in the coun­try, in or­der to bring them to jus­tice.’’

The spokesman added that ‘‘as soon as we have ac­com­plished our mis­sion, we ex­pect that the sit­u­a­tion will re­turn to nor­malcy’’.

He called on churches to pray for the na­tion, and urged other se­cu­rity forces to ‘‘co­op­er­ate for the good of our coun­try’’, warn­ing that ‘‘any provo­ca­tion will be met with an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse’’.

The state­ment called on troops to re­turn to bar­racks im­me­di­ately, with all leave can­celled.

Dur­ing the night, at least three ex­plo­sions were heard in Harare, and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were seen in the streets.

Army com­man­der Con­stantino Chi­wenga had threat­ened on Tues­day to ‘‘step in’’ to calm po­lit­i­cal ten­sions. Mu­gabe’s rul­ing ZANU-PF party re­sponded by ac­cus­ing the gen­eral of ‘‘trea­son­able con­duct’’. But now Chi­wenga ap­pears to be in con­trol.

The army was praised by the na­tion’s in­de­pen­dence war vet­er­ans for car­ry­ing out ‘‘a blood­less cor­rec­tion of gross abuse of power’’.

The mil­i­tary would re­turn Zim­babwe to ‘‘gen­uine democ­racy’’ and make the coun­try a ‘‘mod­ern model na­tion’’, said Chris Mutsvangwa, chair­man of the war vet­er­ans’ as­so­ci­a­tion.

Mutsvangwa and the war vet­er­ans are staunch al­lies of Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, who was fired from his post of vice pres­i­dent by Mu­gabe last week. Mnan­gagwa fled Zim­babwe last week but said he would re­turn to lead the coun­try. The mil­i­tary ac­tion tar­gets a fac­tion of ZANU-PF that is al­lied with Grace Mu­gabe, who re­cently made an au­da­cious grab for power, say­ing she was ready to take over her hus­band’s job.

For months, the party has wran­gled over who will suc­ceed Robert Mu­gabe. Last week he dis­missed his pre­sumed suc­ces­sor, Mnan­gagwa, who had fallen foul of Grace Mu­gabe. She com­pared him to a snake and called for him to be crushed.

For the first time, the south­ern African na­tion is see­ing an open rift be­tween the mil­i­tary and Mu­gabe, the world’s old­est head of state, who has ruled since in­de­pen­dence from white mi­nor­ity rule in 1980. The mil­i­tary has been a key pil­lar of his power.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Zim­bab­wean sol­diers stand next to ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers on a high­way just out­side the cap­i­tal, Harare, yes­ter­day.

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