Zimbabwe under military control after army seizes power from Mugabe

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Zimbabwe’s military leaders have seized control of the impoverished southern African nation, placing longtime leader Robert Mugabe under house arrest and deploying armored vehicles to the streets of the capital, Harare.
Mugabe, 93, the world’s oldest living leader, was unable to leave his home, according to Jacob Zuma, the President of neighboring South Africa. Troops were reportedly stationed at Zimbabwe’s Parliament and the presidential palace.
In a dramatic televised statement early Wednesday, an army spokesman denied a military takeover was underway.
But the situation bore all the hallmarks of a coup: The military was in control of state TV in Harare, a significant army presence was at the city’s international airport, and Mugabe has not been seen in public.

Key developments

Military in charge: An army spokesman announced on the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. at 4 a.m. that it was conducting an operation to target “criminals” close to Mugabe who were causing “social and economic suffering.”
President’s location: The spokesman said Mugabe and his family were “safe.” South Africa’s Zuma later said Mugabe had been confined to his home but was feeling fine. Zuma spoke with Mugabe by phone.
Situation on streets: The capital was quiet, but there were lines outside banks. There are many army checkpoints at key locations and armored vehicles on the streets.

What happened?

A simmering succession battle in the ruling Zanu-PF party came to a head two weeks ago when Mugabe sacked his powerful vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe’s decision fueled speculation he was preparing to anoint his wife, Grace, as his successor. Grace Mugabe, 52, is widely disliked within the party’s old guard, while Mnangagwa enjoys wide support in the military.
The first signs that a military intervention was underway came Tuesday afternoon as armored vehicles were seen near the capital.
The situation escalated with Wednesday morning’s announcement, when Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo addressed the country on state TV, vehemently denying the operation was a coup.
“To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” he said.
“As soon as we accomplish our mission we expect (the) situation to return to normalcy.”
Moyo told members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces that all leave was canceled and soldiers were expected to return to their barracks immediately. He urged Zimbabwe’s other security services to cooperate for “the good of our country.”
Moyo said the security of Mugabe and his family was “guaranteed” and said the President was safe but gave no information of his whereabouts.

Political reaction

Zuma called on Zimbabwe’s Defense Forces to show restraint, adding that he hoped they “will not move and do more damage.”
“I am hoping that the situation is going to be controlled so peace and stability comes back to Zimbabwe,” the South African leader said.
South African Defense and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo arrived in Zimbabwe for discussions with authorities, according to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for “calm, nonviolence and restraint,” deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.

Decades under Mugabe

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist. On winning power after British rule, he moved swiftly to extinguish political opposition. He ordered a violent crackdown that led to a string of massacres in opposition strongholds. The country’s Fifth Brigade is believed to have killed up to 20,000 people, mostly supporters of Mugabe’s main political rival.
But his hardline policies pushed the country into poverty. Its flourishing economy began to disintegrate after a program of land seizures from white farmers, and agricultural output plummeted and inflation soared.
Accused of rigging elections and quashing any sign of political opposition, Mugabe remains the only leader many Zimbabweans have ever known. He once infamously claimed that “only God” could remove him from office.
He faced criticism for throwing a lavish birthday party last year in a region hit by food shortages and drought. But until this week he had succeeded in holding off all challenges to his leadership.
In the House of Commons, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Mugabe as a power-hungry despot who would not be missed.
“This House will remember the brutal litany of his 37 years in office: The elections he rigged and stole, the murder and torture of his opponents, the illegal seizure of land — leading to the worst hyperinflation in recorded history measured in the billions of percentage points — and forcing the abolition of the Zimbabwean dollar,” Johnson said.
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