President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly four decades, was under house arrest on Wednesday, hours after the military announced it had taken him into custody in what appeared to be a coup.
The fate of Mugabe, 93, who kept a tight grip on his southern African nation despite his increasing diplomatic isolation from the West, appeared to be in the hands of former allies and opposition officials negotiating his future.
South African President Jacob Zuma said he had spoken to Mugabe who had indicated that he “was confined to his home but that he was fine”. Troops were reportedly stationed at the country’s Parliament and Presidential Palace, the New York Times reported.
In a dramatic televised statement early on Wednesday, an Army spokesman denied that a military takeover was underway.
But the situation bore all the hallmarks of a coup. The Army was in control of the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp (ZBC), there was a significant military presence at the international airport and Mugabe’s whereabouts were unknown for hours.
After taking over ZBC, two uniformed officers said in a terse pre-dawn announcement that “the situation in our country has moved to another level”.
While denying that the military had seized power, they said Mugabe and his family “are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”, the BBC reported.
“We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” said Major General SB Moyo, the Army’s Chief of Staff.
He warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response”.
The early morning broadcast interruption came less than 48 hours after Army commander Constantino Chiwenga warned that “when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in”.
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