Long­time Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe taken into cus­tody

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Jef­frey Moyo and Norim­itsu Onishi Jef­frey Moyo and Norim­itsu Onishi are New York Times writ­ers.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s mil­i­tary said early Wed­nes­day that it had taken cus­tody of Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, the world’s old­est head of state and one of Africa’s long­est-serv­ing lead­ers, in what in­creas­ingly ap­peared to be a mil­i­tary takeover in the south­ern African na­tion.

Af­ter ap­par­ently seiz­ing the state broad­caster, ZBC, two uni­formed of­fi­cers said in a short predawn an­nounce­ment that “the sit­u­a­tion in our coun­try has moved to an­other level.” While deny­ing that the mil­i­tary had seized power, they said that Mu­gabe and his fam­ily “are safe and sound, and their se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed.”

“We are only tar­get­ing crim­i­nals around him who are com­mit­ting crimes that are caus­ing so­cial and eco­nomic suf­fer­ing in the coun­try in or­der to bring them to jus­tice,” said the main speaker, who was iden­ti­fied as Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo, the army’s chief of staff.

Moyo — who was not widely known to the pub­lic but who was con­sid­ered close to the com­man­der of the Zimbabwe De­fense Forces, Gen. Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga — warned that “any provo­ca­tion will be met with an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse.”

Around 6 a.m. Wed­nes­day, taxis were run­ning on the main roads lead­ing to cen­tral Harare and peo­ple seemed to be mak­ing their way to work. Some sol­diers could be seen on the main roads but were not stop­ping com­muters.

Af­ter the short an­nounce­ment, com­mer­cials on farm­ing and corn seeds ap­peared on the state broad­caster. There was no fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the where­abouts or sta­tus of Mu­gabe, 93, who is the only leader his na­tion has known since in­de­pen­dence in 1980.

Asked in a brief tele­phone in­ter­view about re­ports of a pos­si­ble coup, the coun­try’s in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, Si­mon Khaya Moyo, said, “What can I say? I don’t know about that.” He did not elab­o­rate.

The tele­vi­sion an­nounce­ment came af­ter a long night of ru­mors and sketchy re­ports in Harare that a coup might be un­der way. The day be­fore, in a re­mark­able act of de­fi­ance, Chi­wenga had warned that “when it comes to mat­ters of pro­tect­ing our rev­o­lu­tion, the mil­i­tary will not hes­i­tate to step in.”

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