Zimbabwe on edge over army’s next move

President Mugabe remains under house arrest a day after the military took control.

Zimbabweans are waiting to see what steps the military will take next after seizing control of the country.

President Robert Mugabe is under house arrest. A Roman Catholic priest known to him for years is trying to mediate a deal on his future with the military.

South African ministers have been in the capital Harare meeting the army and political parties.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc is to hold emergency talks shortly.

President Mugabe, 93, has been in control of Zimbabwe since it threw off white minority rule in 1980.

However, the power struggle over who might succeed him, between his wife Grace Mugabe and her rival, former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has split the ruling Zanu-PF party in recent months.

Last week, Mr Mugabe came down in favour of his wife, sacking Mr Mnangagwa, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial struggle and of Zanu-PF.

That proved too much for military leaders who seized control of the country on Wednesday.

On Wednesday the office of South African President Jacob Zuma said he had spoken by phone to Mr Mugabe who had indicated “he was confined to his home but said that he was fine”.

Father Fidelis Mukonori is said to be involved in negotiations between Mr Mugabe and the military.

Mr Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s legitimate ruler and should serve out his term, and is resisting Father Mukonori’s efforts to secure him a graceful exit, Reuters news agency reports.

Zanu-PF’s UK representative, Nick Mangwana, has suggested to the BBC that Mr Mugabe could remain nominally in power until the party congress in December, when Mr Mnangagwa would be formally installed as party and national leader.

Grace Mugabe’s whereabouts are unclear. Namibian officials have denied reports she is there.

Reports suggest that the military are now trying to quash the threat posed by Mrs Mugabe and her allies.

On Wednesday, one of her key allies, Zanu-PF youth wing leader Kudzai Chipanga, made a televised apology for criticising the head of the army as a war of words raged prior to the military takeover.

Mr Chipanga is thought to be in army custody but said he was recording his statement voluntarily.

Local media reports say a number of other senior members of the “Generation-40” group supportive of the first lady have been detained.

They are said to include Zanu-PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo.

One Zimbabwean opposition leader, Tendai Biti, told the BBC he wanted to see a transitional authority in place.

“It is urgent that we go back to democracy,” he said. “It is urgent that we go back to legitimacy but we need a transitional period and I think, I hope, that dialogue can now be opened between the army and Zimbabweans.”

He later told Reuters that he would join a national unity government if Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party, was also in it. Mr Tsvangirai has been abroad receiving treatment for cancer.

Mr Biti was among those calling for the intervention of regional bodies such as the SADC, which has called an emergency meeting in Gaborone, Botswana for 15:00 local time (13:00 GMT).

He also said key regional bloc the African Union (AU) could play a role.

Zimbabwe’s media usually toe the government line and today’s lead stories make it clear there is a new line to follow.

There is a striking absence of tough questions about what the army is doing.

“Business as usual countrywide,” says The Herald, a government-owned newspaper. Yesterday it reassured readers there was “No military takeover”.

State TV and radio stations have returned to regular programming.

Some privately owned papers dare address the possible end of Robert Mugabe’s rule.

“Transitional govt planned … as Mugabe cornered,” the Financial Gazette reports. “Zimbabwe scents the end of an era”.

“It could easily have been entitled The end of an error. A 37-year-old error,” says a similarly headlined commentary in NewsDay.

Not so far, no.

There have been no reports of unrest in Zimbabwe. Correspondents say many people have accepted that President Mugabe is being eased from office. Streets in Harare are said to be quieter than usual but people are going about their business.

On Wednesday, troops and armoured vehicles encircled parliament and other key buildings.

Hours earlier, soldiers took over the headquarters of national broadcaster ZBC and issued a statement saying that the military was targeting “criminals” around President Mugabe.

On national TV, Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo denied there had been a coup, saying: “This is not a military takeover of government.”

He said Mr Mugabe and his family were “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”.

But despite the reassurances, the AU said the power takeover and detention of President Mugabe “seemed like a coup”.

President Mugabe remains under house arrest a day after the military took control.

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