Harare - Zimbabwe’s army says it is in control of the country. It said this when it took over the state broadcaster in the early hours on Wednesday.
Several cabinet ministers and other leaders have allegedly been arrested.
The army moved in on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation at midnight and broadcast to the nation saying President Robert Mugabe and his family are safe in their home.
"So although it doesn’t look like a coup, but it is a coup,” said Zimbabwe analyst Alex Magaisa, a senior Zimbabwe legal analyst based in the UK.
The army has moved in to block roads leading to State House and the new government buildings in the centre of Harare.
Occasional gunfire was heard in the early hours of the morning in the posh northern suburbs where most key government people live.
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Several cabinet ministers, such as local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and finance minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were arrested.
All of them are part of the G40 faction of Zanu-PF which is loyal to Grace Mugabe.
Rumours were swirling that Mugabe and his unpopular wife Grace have been offered safe passage to Singapore, but this could not be confirmed.
As far as possible, army sources say, life will continue and they said the airport and normal travel will continue.
This action by the army was prompted by the sacking last week of vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa who has been at Mugabe’s side for more then 40 years.
At least four armoured troop carriers rolled into the Zimbabwean capital on Tuesday afternoon, a day after General Constantine Chiwenga, head of the armed forces, threatened to "step in" over the sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa who became a vice president in 2014.
Tensions were building in Zimbabwe since Mnangagwa, a powerful figure in Zanu-PF party, fled to South Africa last week after he was fired and was then stripped of his lifetime membership of the party.
The move was widely seen as part of a battle between Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe, the first lady, over the presidential succession when Mugabe dies or steps down. The Zimbabwean president, who is 93, fights his last election next year.
Many had expected Grace Mugabe to be appointed vice president in Mnangagwa’s place at the Zanu-PF special congress next month.
Gen Chiwenga, an ally of Mnangagwa, demanded on Monday that Mugabe immediately cease “purging” the former vice president's allies in the party and in government.
"We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” General Chiwenga said.
In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, Zanu-PF accused Gen Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct."
Earlier on Tuesday Kudzai Chipanga, the leader of Zanu-PF's youth wing, accused Gen Chiwenga of stealing billions of rands and said his movement would act to protect the president.
"We as Zanu-PF youth league are a lion which has awakened and found its voice, therefore we will not sit idly and fold our hands whilst cheap potshots and threats are made against Mugabe,” he said in a statement widely released on social media. He said this earlier in the day.
The military in South Africa and Zambian diplomats on Tuesday warned military leaders in Harare not to take any “unconstitutional” steps to avenge Mnangagwa.
Well-placed sources in Johannesburg and Pretoria said they warned Gen Chiwenga to avoid any "disruption to the constitution" after the military convoys were spotted on Tuesday afternoon.
South African diplomatic sources said late Tuesday that Zambian president Edgar Lungu also warned General Chiwenga to ensure that Zimbabwe’s constitution was respected.
Harare was calm and the city centre deserted on Tuesday night. Residents from different parts of the city said they had not noticed any unusual events or unusual presence of the army or police.
Reports from military sources in Harare said: “We are in control," without giving more detail.
A source living close to Mugabe’s mansion said: “All is normal here. Traffic is coming and going.”
“It feels just like any other day,” said a businessman who had just driven through the centre of Harare and asked not to be identified.
“We presume any coup plotters would know that Zimbabwe would run out of fuel in a week or so, and that South Africa would likely cut off electricity. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country and cannot survive if all borders were closed."
"Life is going on. But those of us who know about what is going on are very depressed, because we want something to happen as life is too bad,” said a vendor who lives close to the city centre.
Mugabe chaired a cabinet which went on until early evening at State House in Harare on Tuesday, but then the army moved in on the ZBC just before midnight.
One staffer claimed he had been hurt, but other reporters and technical staff made way for the army according to information emerging from Harare. After speaking to the people, a military man Stembisiso Moyo, music was played during the rest of the night.
Some sources in Harare said Mugabe had invited General Chiwenga to the office for discussions earlier in the day, but that the invitation was ignored and that the president later decided to sack the general after the armoured troop carriers arrived in Harare late in the afternoon.
A military intervention in Zimbabwean politics may be fraught with difficulties.
The African Union and the regional 15-nation Southern African Development Community are both on record that they do not recognise any authority which comes to power via a coup d’etat.
And while Gen Chiwenga backs Mnangagwa, who leads a faction in Zanu-PF called "Lacoste," some senior officers are close to the G40, the faction of more junior members of the ruling party, loyal to Grace Mugabe.
“Soldiers will get paid on Thursday,” said a relative of a soldier in the Zimbabwe National Army. “They say they have heard nothing. And nothing has been reported in ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation) or The Herald (the main state controlled daily newspaper) about Chiwenga. So many people do not even know that he had a press conference on Monday,”
Police raided a small non-governmental organisation, Magamba, late Tuesday. Its manager, US citizen Martha O’Donovan was released on bail on Monday after being accused of tweeting messages critical of Mugabe, charges she denies.
But by 11 pm on Tuesday night, the partisan ZBC had fallen. And Robert Mugabe, after 37 years in power, was sitting in his massive mansion - built at a cost he could not account for in 2003 - with his much-hated wife Grace.
Independent Foreign Service