Mil­i­tary now prowls Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal

Af­ter 3 ex­plo­sions heard, army chief ad­dresses na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal ten­sions

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD - By Farai Mut­saka

HARARE, Zim­babwe — At least three ex­plo­sions were heard in Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal early Wed­nes­day, and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were seen in the streets af­ter the army com­man­der threat­ened to “step in” to calm po­lit­i­cal ten­sions over 93-year-old Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe’s pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor. The rul­ing party ac­cused the com­man­der of “trea­son­able con­duct.”

The U.S. Em­bassy closed to the pub­lic and en­cour­aged cit­i­zens to shel­ter in place, cit­ing “the on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty through the night.”

Vice pres­i­dent fired

For the first time, this 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.

The As­so­ci­ated Press saw armed sol­diers as­sault­ing passers-by in the early morn­ing hours in Harare, as well as sol­diers load­ing am­mu­ni­tion near a group of four mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles. The ex­plo­sions could be heard near the Univer­sity of Zim­babwe cam­pus. The de­vel­op­ments came sev­eral hours af­ter the AP saw three ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers in a con­voy head­ing to­ward an army bar­racks just out­side the cap­i­tal.

Mu­gabe last week fired Vice Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa and ac­cused him of plot­ting to take power, in­clud­ing through witch­craft. Mnan­gagwa, who en­joyed the mil­i­tary’s back­ing and once was seen as a po­ten­tial pres­i­dent, fled the coun­try. More than 100 se­nior of­fi­cials al­legedly supporting him have been listed for dis­ci­plinary mea­sures by a fac­tion as­so­ci­ated with Mu­gabe’s wife, Grace.

The first lady now ap­pears po­si­tioned to re­place Mnan­gagwa as one of the coun­try’s two vice pres­i­dents at a special con­fer­ence of the rul­ing party in De­cem­ber, lead­ing many in Zim­babwe to sus­pect that she could suc­ceed her husband. Grace Mu­gabe is un­pop­u­lar with some Zim­bab­weans be­cause of her lav­ish spend­ing, and four peo­ple ac­cused of boo­ing her at a re­cent rally were ar­rested.

The pres­i­dent re­port­edly at­tended a weekly Cab­i­net meet­ing Tues­day as the mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were first sighted. It was not clear where his wife was.

‘Treach­er­ous shenani­gans’

On Mon­day, army com­man­der Con­stantino Chi­wenga is­sued an un­prece­dented state­ment say­ing purges against se­nior rul­ing ZANU-PF party of­fi­cials, many of whom like Mnan­gagwa fought for lib­er­a­tion, should end “forth­with.”

“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,” the army com­man­der said.

On Tues­day night the rul­ing party is­sued a state­ment ac­cus­ing the army com­man­der of “trea­son­able con­duct,” say­ing his com­ments were “clearly cal­cu­lated to dis­turb na­tional peace and sta­bil­ity” and were “meant to in­cite in­sur­rec­tion.” It was not clear whether the com­man­der still had his post.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / As­so­ci­ated Press

Zim­bab­wean sol­diers keep watch from an ar­mored ve­hi­cle af­ter three ex­plo­sions were heard early Wed­nes­day in the cap­i­tal of Harare.

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