Zimbabwe’s military has taken power in the southern African nation, detaining top officials in an apparent coup.
But the military denied it was a coup, instead saying it was targeting “criminals” around long-ruling President Robert Mugabe.
The military said 93-year-old Mr. Mugabe, the world’s oldest leader, was “safe and sound”, alongside is family, Reuters news agency reported Wednesday.
The army had on Monday warned it could “step in” and would not tolerate purges in the ruling ZANU-PF that had seen Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired.
The party responded on Tuesday by accusing army chief Constantino Chinwenga, a general, of “treasonable conduct” and vowing not to succumb to military threats.
Late Tuesday, armoured tanks took position in the capital, and there were sounds of gunfire in the capital Harare early Wednesday but the military asked residents to be calm.
Soldiers quickly seized the state broadcaster, ZBC, manhandled its staff and read out a statement announcing its plans, Reuters reported.
The statement, read by Sibusiso Moyo, a major general and Chief of Staff Logistics, denied the action was a “military takeover of government” and assured “the nation that his excellency the president… 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. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” the military said.
Reports say senior government officials, which the military referred to as “criminals”, were detained, and Reuters quoted a source as confirming Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo was among those taken into custody.
Mr. Chombo is a prominent member of a faction of the ZANU-PF party supporting Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace’s bid to succeed her husband.
The statement ordered all military personnel on leave to return to barracks immediately, and advised all security services to cooperate, threatening any provocation with “appropriate response”.
It assured the Zimbabwean judiciary that its independence.
The unprecedented move has thrown the struggling nation into political uncertainty as the global community monitors for clarity.
The United States embassy in Harare said it would not open on Wednesday “due to uncertainty” and urged its citizens to “shelter in place”.
Mr. Mugabe took power in 1980, leading what was then a promising African nation away from white colonial power.
His prolonged stay has seen the country’s economy collapse after he chased out white farmers and lost economic ties with most western powers and institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The recent crisis is centred on Mr. Mugabe’ wife’s bid to succeed her husband, and began after the ruling party fired prominent members — a move seen as meant to clear Mrs. Mugabe’s succession path.
The dismissal of Vice President Mnangagwa, a former defence minister and a favourite to succeed Mr. Mugabe, appears to be the tipping point.
The army said on Monday it would not tolerate the removal of veterans who fought for the country’s independence.