Zimbabwe mil­i­tary takes con­trol of the coun­try

Of­fi­cers say Mu­gabe is still pres­i­dent, but that they will tar­get ‘crim­i­nals’ by his side.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Robyn Dixon robyn.dixon@la­times.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Tawanda Karombo in Harare con­trib­uted to this re­port.

South Africa — Zimbabwe’s mil­i­tary re­vealed Wed­nes­day that it had in ef­fect taken con­trol of the coun­try, mov­ing to end a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in a chaotic night that saw ex­plo­sions and gun­fire erupt­ing in the cap­i­tal, Harare.

The mil­i­tary said in a state­ment that Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe re­mained pres­i­dent and com­man­der in chief of the armed forces but that “crim­i­nals” around him would be pros­e­cuted.

“To both our peo­ple and the world be­yond our borders, we wish to make this abun­dantly clear this is not a mil­i­tary takeover of gov­ern­ment,” said the state­ment, read on-air by a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer.

“Com­rade R.G. Mu­gabe and his fam­ily are safe and sound, and their se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed,” the state­ment said. “We are only tar­get­ing crim­i­nals around him who are com­mit­ting crimes that are caus­ing so­cial and eco­nomic suf­fer­ing in the coun­try to bring them to jus­tice.”

The army, urg­ing peo­ple to re­main calm and avoid un­nec­es­sary move­ment, said it was at­tempt­ing “to pacify a de­gen­er­at­ing po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in our coun­try.”

The U.S. Em­bassy warned Amer­i­cans in Zimbabwe to re­main in­doors. The State De­part­ment said it was mon­i­tor­ing de­vel­op­ments and urged the na­tion’s lead­ers to resolve their dif­fer­ences peace­fully.

The mil­i­tary ac­tion tar­gets a fac­tion of the gov­ern­ing party, ZANU-PF, that is al­lied with Grace Mu­gabe, the pres­i­dent’s wife, who re­cently made an au­da­cious grab for power, say­ing that she was ready to take over her hus­band’s job.

For months, the party has wran­gled over who will suc­ceed Mu­gabe. Last week the pres­i­dent dis­missed his vice pres­i­dent and pre­sumed suc­ces­sor, Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, who has close ties to the mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ser­vices. Mnan­gagwa had fallen afoul of Grace Mu­gabe, who com­pared him to a snake and called for him to be crushed.

The suc­ces­sion bat­tle has in­ten­si­fied amid specuJOHANNESBURG, la­tion that the 93-year-old pres­i­dent may die in of­fice. Zimbabwe’s ruler since 1980, he has held the pres­i­dency since 1987 and has said he plans to run for an­other term next year.

The dis­missal of Mnan­gagwa trig­gered un­hap­pi­ness among many gen­er­als, but what outraged mil­i­tary lead­ers were the ef­forts of the fac­tion al­lied with Grace Mu­gabe to oust dozens of peo­ple associated with Mnan­gagwa.

Flanked by 90 mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, Gen. Con­stantino Chi­wenga, the head of the armed forces, warned Mon­day that the mil­i­tary would in­ter­vene if the purge con­tin­ued.

“The cur­rent purg­ing, which is clearly tar­get­ing mem­bers of the party with a lib­er­a­tion back­ground, must stop forth­with,” he said. “It is our strong and deeply con­sid­ered po­si­tion that if dras­tic ac­tion is not taken im­me­di­ately, our beloved coun­try Zimbabwe will def­i­nitely be headed to be­com­ing a neo-colony again.”

It was the first time the mil­i­tary, which has kept Mu­gabe in power for years, de­fied him, mak­ing clear it was not will­ing to ac­cept Grace Mu­gabe as vice pres­i­dent.

That spurred the party to ac­cuse Chi­wenga of trea­son and in­cit­ing an in­sur­rec­tion.

Grace Mu­gabe and some al­lies, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment min­is­ters Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Ka­sukuwere, are seen as un­ac­cept­able to some sec­tions of the mil­i­tary be­cause, un­like Mnan­gagwa and Mu­gabe, they played no part in the coun­try’s lib­er­a­tion war four decades ago to end white mi­nor­ity rule.

The min­is­ters are part of a fac­tion called G40, a ref­er­ence to the fact that they are younger than the gen­er­a­tion of lib­er­a­tion fight­ers. Spec­u­la­tion grew early Wed­nes­day that Moyo and Ka­sukuwere could face ar­rest in com­ing days.

Af­ter Mu­gabe sacked him, Mnan­gagwa re­port­edly fled the coun­try, say­ing his life had been threat­ened. His where­abouts are un­known.

His dis­missal by Mu­gabe came days af­ter Grace Mu­gabe launched a fierce tirade against Mnan­gagwa at a church ser­vice, call­ing for him to be ex­pelled. She was en­raged af­ter be­ing booed ear­lier at a rally in the south­ern city of Bulawayo and blamed Mnan­gagwa for the in­ci­dent.

Ten­sion rose in Zimbabwe on Tues­day as ru­mors of a coup spread and so­cial me­dia post­ings showed sol­diers and sev­eral tanks on the streets in the cap­i­tal.

“We are won­der­ing where this is all go­ing. What­ever hap­pens, we just hope that it will not af­fect us and our chil­dren,” said Richard Mut­edzi, 29, in cen­tral Harare.

Moyo, the higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, tweeted a copy of the ZANU-PF state­ment ac­cus­ing Chi­wenga of trea­son.

In ad­di­tion to vi­o­lat­ing Zimbabwe’s con­sti­tu­tion, a coup would at­tract strong con­dem­na­tion from the African Union and the re­gional lead­er­ship body, the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity. Al­lies of Mnan­gagwa sug­gested on Twit­ter that the takeover would be “blood­less” and was de­signed to lead to elec­tions and a new gov­ern­ment.

As tur­moil un­folded, the only per­son in the rul­ing party to ad­dress jour­nal­ists was Kudzanai Chipanga, the leader of the youth wing of ZANU-PF, who warned the mil­i­tary to stay out of pol­i­tics and said the youth wing was ready to die for Mu­gabe.

Jeke­sai Njik­izana AFP/Getty Images

GEN. Con­stantino Chi­wenga on Mon­day warned the rul­ing party to stop a purge of some older mem­bers.

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