Explosions in Zimbabwe capital, troops seize state broadcaster
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Harare - Several loud explosions echoed across central Harare on Wednesday after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup, a Reuters witness said.
The reason for the blasts was not immediately apparent.
Earlier troops deployed on the streets of the capital seized the state broadcaster.
Just 24 hours after military chief General Constantino
Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in
Mugabe's ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armoured personnel
carriers on main roads around the capital.
Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through
the darkness. "Don't try anything funny. Just go," one barked at
Reuters on Harare Drive.
Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the
ZBC, Zimbabwe's state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe
mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were
manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist
Instead of the usual ZBC 11pm news bulletin, music videos were played instead, according to reports.
Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of
the southern African nation's capital, Reuters witnesses said.
Read more: Zanu PF calls #Zimbabwe army chief's criticism treason
The US ambassador in Zimbabwe has instructed all employees to remain home on Wednesday due to "ongoing political uncertainty," the embassy said in a statement on its website amid speculation about a coup.
"US citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice," the statement said, adding the embassy would be closed to the public on Wednesday.
Despite the troops stationed at locations across Harare,
there was no word from the military as to the fate of Mugabe,
Zimbabwe's leader of the last 37 years and the self-styled
'Grand Old Man' of African politics.
In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe
is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of
the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain
power destroyed one of Africa's most promising states.
In the only official word from the government, Isaac Moyo,
Zimbabwe's ambassador to neighbouring South Africa, earlier
dismissed talk of a coup, saying the government was "intact" and
blaming social media for spreading false information.
"There's nothing really happening. They are just social
media claims," Moyo told Reuters.
The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday
when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he
was prepared to "step in" to end a purge of supporters of sacked
vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief
nicknamed "The Crocodile", was favourite to succeed his
life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the
way for Mugabe's 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.
Chiwenga's unprecedented statement represented a major
escalation of the struggle to succeed Mugabe, the only leader
Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in
Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital on
Tuesday, officials said, and afterwards ZANU-PF said it stood by
the "primacy of politics over the gun" and accused Chiwenga of
"treasonable conduct ... meant to incite insurrection."
The previous day, Chiwenga had made clear the army's refusal
to accept the removal of Mnangagwa - like the generals a veteran
of Zimbabwe's anti-colonial liberation war - and the presumed
accession of Grace, once a secretary in the government typing
Local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, a leading
figure in her relatively youthful 'G40' faction, refused to
answer Reuters questions about the situation in Harare. "I'm in
a meeting," he said, before hanging up shortly before midnight.
Army, police and government spokesmen refused to answer
numerous phone calls asking for comment.
Neither Mugabe nor Grace have responded in public to
Chiwenga's remarks and state media did not publish his
statement. The Herald newspaper posted some of the comments on
its Twitter page but deleted them.
The head of ZANU-PF's youth wing, which openly backs Grace,
accused the army chief of subverting the constitution.
"Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an
ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are
prepared to die for," Youth League leader Kudzai Chipanga said
at the party's headquarters in Harare.
Grace Mugabe's rise has brought her into conflict with the
independence-era war veterans, who enjoyed privileged status in
Zimbabwe until the last two years when they spearheaded
criticism of Mugabe's handling of the economy.
In the last year, a chronic absence of dollars has led to
long queues outside banks and an economic and financial collapse
that many fear will rival the meltdown of 2007-2008, when
inflation topped out at 500 billion percent.
Imported goods are running out and economists say that, by
some measures, inflation is now at 50 percent a month.
According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by
Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalise the
economy by bringing back thousands of white farmers kicked off
their land nearly two decades ago and patching up relations with
the likes of the World Bank and IMF.
Whatever the outcome, analysts said the military would want
to present their move as something other than a full-blown coup
to avoid criticism from an Africa keen to leave behind the Cold
War continental stereotype of generals being the final arbiters
of political power.
"A military coup is the nuclear option," said Alex Magaisa,
a UK-based Zimbabwean academic. "A coup would be a very hard
sell at home and in the international community. They will want
to avoid that."