Tanks seen out­side Harare af­ter Zim­babwe army chief’s coup threat

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

HARARE Four tanks were seen head­ing to­wards Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal Harare yes­ter­day, wit­nesses said, a day af­ter the head of the armed forces said he was pre­pared to “step in” to end a purge of sup­port­ers of ousted vice-pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa.

A wit­ness saw two other tanks parked be­side the main road from Harare to Chin­hoyi, about 20km from the city. One, which was pointed in the di­rec­tion of the cap­i­tal, had come off its tracks.

Sol­diers at the scene re­fused to talk to Reuters. Ear­lier yes­ter­day, the youth wing of Zim­babwe’s rul­ing party ac­cused the mil­i­tary chief of sub­vert­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion when he threat­ened to in­ter­vene af­ter Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe plunged the coun­try into cri­sis by sack­ing Mr Mnan­gagwa last week.

In an un­prece­dented step, the head of the armed forces, Gen­eral Con­stantino Chi­wenga, openly threat­ened to “step in” if the purge of war veter­ans did not stop.

“We must re­mind those be­hind the cur­rent treach­er­ous shenani­gans that, when it comes to mat­ters of pro­tect­ing our rev­o­lu­tion, the mil­i­tary will not hes­i­tate to step in,” Gen Chi­wenga said in a state­ment read to re­porters at a news con­fer­ence packed with the coun­try’s top brass on Mon­day.

Mr Mnan­gagwa, 75, a long-serv­ing vet­eran of Zim­babwe’s 1970s lib­er­a­tion wars, had been viewed as a likely suc­ces­sor to Mr Mu­gabe be­fore the Pres­i­dent fired him on Nov 6. Mr Mnan­gagwa, an ally of Gen Chi­wenga, fled the south­ern African na­tion on Nov 8 be­cause of “in­ces­sant threats” against him and his fam­ily.

His down­fall ap­peared to pave the way for Mr Mu­gabe’s wife Grace to suc­ceed the 93-year-old Pres­i­dent, the only leader Zim­babwe has known in 37 years of in­de­pen­dence.

Nei­ther the ZBC state broad­caster nor the gov­ern­ment-run Her­ald daily cov­ered the army chief’s open threat to Mr Mu­gabe, prompt­ing se­nior com­man­ders to de­mand why his in­ter­ven­tion went un­re­ported. Spec­u­la­tion has been rife in Harare that Mr Mu­gabe could now re­move Gen Chi­wenga.

Mrs Grace Mu­gabe, 52, has de­vel­oped a strong fol­low­ing in the pow­er­ful youth wing of the rul­ing ZANU-PF party. Her rise has brought her into con­flict with the in­de­pen­dence-era war veter­ans, who once en­joyed a priv­i­leged role in the rul­ing party un­der Mr Mu­gabe, but who have in­creas­ingly been ban­ished from se­nior gov­ern­ment and party roles in re­cent years.

The ZANU-PF’s Youth League said in a state­ment that Gen Chi­wenga would not be al­lowed to pick Zim­babwe’s lead­ers.

“We will stand guard in de­fence of the rev­o­lu­tion – like the peo­ple of Turkey last year who re­pelled rogue se­cu­rity forces from in­ter­fer­ing with an elected gov­ern­ment,” it said.

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