Mugabe makes defiant appearance after army takeover

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, left, confers awards for the students with the leading theses, as he presides over a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe on Friday, November 17, 2017. (AP)
Updated 17 November 2017
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Mugabe makes defiant appearance after army takeover

HARARE: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attended a university graduation ceremony Friday, making a first public appearance since the military takeover that appeared to signal the end of his 37-year reign.
Despite his show of defiance, pressure mounted on the 93-year-old leader to quit as veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war — key players in the country’s power structure — called for mass anti-Mugabe demonstrations on Saturday.
Mugabe, 93, had been confined to house arrest after the military took over the country.
But on Friday, he walked into the ceremony venue in Harare dressed in a blue academic gown and tasseled hat, before listening to speeches with his eyes closed and applauding occasionally, an AFP correspondent reported.
The generals took over late on Tuesday after vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa was abruptly sacked and Mugabe’s wife Grace emerged in prime position to succeed her increasingly frail husband.
Mnangagwa, who had fled abroad after his firing, returned to the country on Thursday and seems poised to play a central role in shaping developments.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and many citizens were stunned by the military’s intervention, which was sparked by the bitter succession battle between Grace and Mnangagwa.
“I’m happy with what the army has done, at least now we’ve got a future for our kids,” Teslin Khumbula, the owner of a security company, told AFP.
“We don’t want Mugabe anymore... Please — everyone go to the streets.”
Analysts say the military leadership was strongly opposed to the rise of Mugabe’s ambitious 52-year-old wife, while Mnangagwa has close ties to the defense establishment.
Mugabe and the army chiefs held talks on Thursday, but no official statement was issued on the status of negotiations that could see him eased out of office.
Government television showed Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, at the talks smiling alongside army chief General Constantino Chiwenga.
Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the independence war veterans’ association which is seen as supporting Mnangagwa, said Friday that “the game is up” for Mugabe and called for protests against the president.
“It’s done, it’s finished... The generals have done a fantastic job,” he said at a press conference in Harare as he called for a mass demonstration on Saturday.
“We want to restore our pride and tomorrow is the day... we can finish the job which the army started.”
Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war were loyal supporters of Mugabe, but they turned against him as friction grew between the president and the military.
Mnangagwa, 75, fled to South Africa following his dismissal and published a scathing rebuke of Mugabe’s leadership and Grace’s presidential ambitions.
The military said Friday they had detained some “criminals” in Mugabe’s government in a reference to supporters of Grace’s presidential ambitions.
Grace has not been seen since the takeover of the military, which has not overtly called for President Mugabe’s resignation.
Morgan Tsvangirai, a former prime minister and long-time opponent of Mugabe, has said Mugabe must resign “in the interest of the people,” added that “a transitional mechanism” would be needed to ensure peace.
Harare’s residents have largely ignored the few soldiers still on the streets with shops, businesses and offices operating as usual.
Eldred Masunungure, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said the formation of a “pre-election coalition” could be a viable response to the crisis.
The international community has been watching the crisis closely.
In Paris, the head of the African Union, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, warned Thursday that the continent “will never accept the military coup d’etat” in Zimbabwe and called for a return to the “constitutional order.”
“(Problems) need to be resolved politically by the ZANU-PF party and not with an intervention by the army,” added Conde.
Meeting in Botswana, the SADC called for an emergency regional summit to help resolve the crisis, urging Zimbabwe to “settle the political challenges through peaceful means.”
Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, said elections scheduled for 2018 should go ahead.
In Ivory Coast, President Alassane Ouattara on Friday saluted Mugabe’s role in the fight against colonialism, saying he “has been the object of respect and even adulation from many Africans and young Africans.”
“But the world has changed,” he said. “Clearly, given his age and the long time he has spent in the office, everyone is aware that it is time for him to hand over his seat to a new generation.”


Rescued Thai football boys pray for protection at Buddhist temple

Updated 17 min 6 sec ago
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Rescued Thai football boys pray for protection at Buddhist temple

CHIANG RAI, Thailand: The Thai football boys and their coach began their first day back home with their families since they were rescued from a flooded cave with a trip to a Buddhist temple on Thursday to pray for protection from misfortunes.
The 11 boys and the coach kneeled and pressed their hands in prayer to the tune of chanting monks. They were joined by relatives and friends at the Wat Pra That Doi Wao temple, overlooking Myanmar on Thailand’s northern border.
The remaining member of the Wild Boars football team — Adul Sargon — is not a Buddhist and did not attend the ceremony, meant to extend one’s life and protect it from dangers.
The team has already said they would ordain as Buddhist novices to honor a former Thai navy SEAL diver who died in the cave while making preparations for their rescue.
On Wednesday evening, the boys and coach faced the media for the first time since their ordeal, describing their surprise at seeing two British divers rising from muddy waters in the recesses of the cave. It would be another week before they were pulled out of the Tham Luang cave.
“We weren’t sure if it was for real,” 14-year-old Adul said. “So, we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”
In one poignant and emotional moment at the news conference, a portrait was displayed of Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who died. One of the boys, 11-year-old Chanin “Titan” Vibulrungruang, the youngest of the group, covered his eyes as if wiping away a tear.
“I feel sad. And another thing is I’m really impressed with Sgt. Sam for sacrificing his life for all 13 Wild Boars to be able to live our lives outside happily and normally,” he said. “When we found out, everyone was sad. Extremely sad, like we were the cause of this that made the sergeant’s family sad and having to face problems.”
The Wild Boars had entered the cave on June 23 for what was to be a relaxing excursion after football practice. But rain began, and water soon filled the cavern, cutting off their escape, and they huddled on a patch of dry ground deep inside the cave.
Coach Ekapol “Ake” Chanthawong said the trip was meant to last one hour, simply because “each of us wanted to see what was inside.”
When the hour was up, they were pretty deep inside and already had swum through some flooded areas in the spirit of adventure. But in turning back, he discovered the way was not at all clear, and he swam ahead to scout the route, attaching a rope to himself so the boys could pull him back if necessary.
He said he had to be pulled out.
Ekapol said he told the boys: “We cannot go out this way. We have to find another way.”
The boys told reporters of their reactions at that point.
“I felt scared. I was afraid I wouldn’t get to go home and my mom would scold me, said Mongkol Boonpiam, 13, prompting laughter.
Ekarat Wongsukchan, 14, said they decided “to calm ourselves first, to try to fix the problem and find a way out. Be calm and not shocked.”
The group had taken no food with them and survived by drinking water that dripped from the cave walls, Ekapol said, adding that all the boys knew how to swim, which had been a concern for rescuers.
Titan said he tried hard not to think about food. “When I’m starving, I don’t think of food otherwise it’d make me more hungry.”
Adul said they were digging around the spot when they heard the voices and Ekapol called for silence.
He recounted how Ekapol told them to “’quickly get down there, that’s the sound of a person, or else they’re going to pass on by,’ something like that.”
But he said his teammate holding the flashlight was scared, so Adul told him “If you’re not going to go, then I’ll go.”
“So I quickly took the flashlight, and quickly went down, and I greeted them, ‘hello,’” Adul added.
Psychologists had vetted the journalists’ questions in advance to avoid bringing up any aspects of the rescue that might disturb them. The dangers of the complicated operation, in which the boys were extracted in three separate missions with diving equipment and pulleys through the tight passageways, were not discussed.
Doctors said the 13 were physically and mentally healthy. Although they lost an average of 4 kilograms (9 pounds) during the more than two weeks they were trapped in the cave, they have since gained about 3 kilograms (6 1/2 pounds) on average since their rescue. They were treated for minor infections.
Asked what he had learned from their experience, 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam said he felt stronger. “I have more patience, endurance, tolerance,” he said.
Adul said it had taught him “not to live life carelessly.”
While many of the boys wanted to be pro football players when they grow up, at least four of them said they hope to become navy SEALs, so they could help others.
All expressed their apologies to their families.
“I wanted to apologize to my parents. I know that I will get yelled at by mom when I get home,” said Pornchai Kamluang, 16.
Ekarat said sheepishly he wanted to apologize to his parents because while he told them he was going to a cave, he told them the wrong one.
“I told them I was going to Tham Khun Nam,” he said. “I didn’t tell them I went to Tham Luang. So, I was wondering how they found us at the right cave.”