Zimbabwe’s military read out a statement on national TV after seizing the national broadcaster ZBC, claiming the army was “targeting criminals” and was not staging a “military takeover of government.” The statement added that leader Robert Mugabe and his family was “safe andf sound.”
Earlier, heavy gunfire was heard in the Harare suburbs near to Mugabe’s compound as the crisis in the African nation intensifies.
Mugabe, the country’s 93-year-old leader, has yet to comment amid rumours of a military coup. However, Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe’s ambassador in South Africa, claimed the government remains “intact.”
The statement, read out by a man in military fatigues, said: “We wish to assure 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,” he continued. “As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
On Tuesday Zimbabwe’s ruling party accused the nation’s army chief General Constantino Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct”, after he threatened to “step in” to calm political tensions.
Infighting over who will succeed Mugabe has been rife, with the leader’s wife seen as a possible successor.
Mugabe – the world’s oldest head of state – last week fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power, including through witchcraft.
Mnangagwa, who enjoys the military’s backing, fled the country after claiming he’d been threatened. More than 100 senior officials allegedly supportive of Mnangagwa were listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Grace Mugabe.
Earlier, three armored personnel carriers with several soldiers in a convoy were seen heading toward an army barracks just outside the capital, Harare, the Associated Press reported.
While military vehicle movement there is routine, the timing heightened unease that for the first time is seeing an open rift between the military and Mugabe.
The military has been a key pillar of Mugabe’s power since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
The British foreign office told Britons “currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.”
The US embassy in the capital said it would be closed on Wednesday due to the “uncertainty,” while advising US citizens to “shelter in place.”