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Army spokesman on state TV denies a military takeover underway
President Robert Mugabe and family "safe," army spokesman says
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.
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. CNN saw army checkpoints at key locations and armored vehicles on the streets.
Political upheaval grips Zimbabwe
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.
Zimbabwe in turmoil
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.
There were reports Wednesday that officials were being arrested.
Soldiers secured the Robert Mugabe International Airport and checked vehicles and IDs.
Armored personnel carriers were seen at several locations in downtown Harare, including at the high court and government buildings.
The situation in Harare is oddly “quite calm,” a resident told CNN on WhatsApp. He said the appearance of armored military vehicles on the streets was the first he could recall.
“Activities are normal elsewhere,” wrote a university student, who passed by military vehicles outside government buildings in central Harare repeatedly on Wednesday. “The military has captured key places.”
There was calm, though.
“The soldiers outside the President’s office are actually talking to folks passing by,” the student said.
Another Harare resident, who watched a cricket match Wednesday evening outside the old presidential house, also wrote on WhatsApp that the city was placid. “(The) Army has been polite and getting on with the people,” he said.
People were dropping off food and drink for the soldiers, he said.