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Zimbabwe army has Mugabe and wife in custody, secures capital

Above, a military tank and armed soldiers are positioned on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare on Wednesday, November 15. (AP)
Above, a military tank and armed soldiers are positioned on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare on Wednesday, November 15. (AP)
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
A street scene along Robert Mugabe road in Harare, on Tuesday. (AP)
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
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.”
An army source confirmed it is in charge of a paramilitary police support unit depot in Harare and has disarmed police officers there.
“They are now in charge of all armory, all gates and roads leading in or out of the camp. Arcturus Road (which leads to the camp) is closed and all Support Unit details with guns have been disarmed,” the source said.
The US Embassy closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.” The British embassy issued a similar warning, citing “reports of unusual military activity.”
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 coHARARE, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital’s streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
The night’s action triggered speculation of a coup, but the military’s supporters praised it as a “bloodless correction.”
Armed soldiers in armored personnel carriers stationed themselves at key points in Harare, while Zimbabweans formed long lines at banks in order to draw the limited cash available, a routine chore in the country’s ongoing financial crisis. People looked at their phones to read about the army takeover and others went to work or to shops.
In an address to the nation after taking control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, an army spokesman said early Wednesday the military is targeting “criminals” around Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order will be restored.
Meanwhile South Africa on Wednesday urged Zimbabwe to resist any “unconstitutional changes.”
President Jacob Zuma “has expressed hope that developments in Zimbabwe would not lead to unconstitutional changes of government,” said a statement released in Pretoria.
Zuma appealed for “the country to resolve the political impasse amicably and has urged the Zimbabwean defense force to ensure... the maintenance of peace,” it added.
South Africa is an influential neighbor of Zimbabwe, with millions of Zimbabweans living in the country to seek work and flee Mugabe’s regime.
It was not clear where Mugabe, 93, and his wife were Wednesday but it seems they are in the custody of the military. “Their security is guaranteed,” the army spokesman said.
“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” the army statement said. “We are only targeting criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”
The spokesman added “as soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.” The army spokesman called on churches to pray for the nation. He urged other security forces to “cooperate for the good of our country,” warning that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”
The statement called on troops to return to barracks immediately, with all leave canceled.
Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets.
The military actions appear to put the army in control of the country. Army commander Constantino Chiwenga had threatened on Monday to “step in” to calm political tensions. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party responded by accusing the general of “treasonable conduct.” But now Chiwenga appears to be in control.
The army has been praised by the nation’s war veterans for carrying out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power.” The military will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy” and make the country a “modern model nation,” said Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the war veterans’ association, told The Associated Press in Johannesburg.
Mutsvangwa and the war veterans are staunch allies of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired from his post of vice president by Mugabe last week. Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe last week but said he would return to lead the country.
The US Embassy closed to the public Wednesday and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.” The British Embassy issued a similar warning, citing “reports of unusual military activity.”
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.
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 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 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. It was not clear where his wife was.
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. The state-run broadcaster did not report on his statement.
Showing a generational divide, the ruling party’s youth league, aligned with the 52-year-old first lady, on Tuesday criticized the army commander’s comments, saying youth were “ready to die for Mugabe.”
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.
State broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation read out part of the ruling party statement late in the nightly news, which was led by a report on regional tourism.
The army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
“Yes, given the past two weeks’ political events, it is tempting to speculate that there is a connection between the deployment of military personnel and the comments of the army chief of staff on an ‘intervention’ — but there are very real dangers of violence breaking out as a result of rampant and unfounded speculation,” African Defense Review analyst Conway Waddington wrote Tuesday evening, saying there appeared to be no other signs of an “organized coup” and that it could have been an act of intimidation instead.
Mugabe in the past has warned military commanders from interfering in succession politics. “Politics shall always lead the gun, and not the gun politics. Otherwise it will be a coup,” he told supporters in July.
Frustration has been growing in once-prosperous Zimbabwe as the economy collapses under Mugabe. The country was shaken last year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade, and a once-loyal war veterans association turned on the president, calling him “dictatorial” and blaming him for the economic crisis.
“Mnangagwa was held out by many as the best hope within ZANU-PF for piloting an economic recovery,” analyst Piers Pigou with the International Crisis Group wrote Tuesday.
Now, “Mugabe will have to employ all his guile if he intends to ensure continued accommodation with the armed forces.”

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