Zimbabwe military denies coup, says President Mugabe safe

Ageing Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe 93 who has been in power since 1980 is in increasingly fragile health and makes regular trips abroad for medical treatment

Ageing Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe 93 who has been in power since 1980 is in increasingly fragile health and makes regular trips abroad for medical treatment

Soldiers were deployed across capital Harare and seized the state broadcaster on Wednesday after 93-year-old Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup. He said: "We wish to assure the nation that his Excellency, the president... and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed".

In an address to the nation, an army spokesman said the military is targeting "criminals" around Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order will be restored.

According to the army general, they expect that the situation will return to normalcy "as soon as we have accomplished our mission".

Martin Rupiya, an expert on Zimbabwe military affairs at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said the army appeared to be putting the squeeze on Mugabe.

Grace Mugabe, 52, has support in the party's youth wing and is believed to have engineered the firing of another vice president, Joice Mujuru, in 2014.

The U.S. embassy closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing "the ongoing political uncertainty through the night".

The vice president's removal led to army chief Gen. Constantino Chiwenga on Monday warning that the military was prepared to intervene to end purges within the party.

Later Wednesday, ruling the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) made a series of announcements on Twitter confirming Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sacked as vice president last week, as interim party leader and de facto president.

"The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith", Mr Chiwenga said in a statement read to reporters at a news conference packed with senior officers.

A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabes office in Harare.

Robert Mugabe has accumulated a net worth of $10 million (£7.5 million) thanks largely to the fortunes reaped from Zimbabwe's diamond deposits. The veteran of the country's 1970s liberation war was popular with the military and had been seen as a likely successor to Mugabe.

This followed months of incessant attacks on Mnangagwa by First Lady Grace Mugabe and her backers such as Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere. "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. "Zimbabweans are urged to stay away from the CBD tomorrow until further notice".

Witnesses said they saw four armoured vehicles turn before reaching Harare and head towards the Presidential Guard compound in a suburb on the outskirts of Harare.

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