Ex­plo­sions, mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles put Zim­babwe cap­i­tal on edge

Army takes over state broad­caster but says not a coup

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Farai Mutsaka

HARARE, Zim­babwe — At least three ex­plo­sions went off 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 93year-old Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe’s pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor. The rul­ing party ac­cused the com­man­der of “trea­son­able con­duct.”

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

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.

But Zim­babwe’s army early Wed­nes­day sought to re­as­sure the coun­try that “this is not a mil­i­tary takeover” and that while Mu­gabe was safe and sound, the mil­i­tary was tar­get­ing “crim­i­nals around him” who have sent the na­tion spin­ning into eco­nomic de­spair.

“As soon as we have ac­com­plished our mis­sion, we ex­pect that the sit­u­a­tion will re­turn to nor­malcy,” the army spokesman said, call­ing on churches to pray for the coun­try.

The army took con­trol of the state Zim­babwe Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion late Tues­day, and an army spokesman made the state­ment on air early Wed­nes­day.

The As­so­ci­ated Press saw armed sol­diers as­sault­ing passers-by in Harare, as well as sol­diers load­ing am­mu­ni­tion near four mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles. The ex­plo­sions could be heard near the Univer­sity of Zim­babwe. 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 suc­ces­sor, fled the coun­try and said he had been threat­ened. Over 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 as many strug­gle, 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.

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.

TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI/AP

Zim­bab­wean sol­diers sit early Wed­nes­day on a mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle in Harare, the cap­i­tal.

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