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Zimbabwe crisis: Army takes over but denies coup

Zimbabwe’s military has seized state TV, saying it is targeting people close to President Robert Mugabe for causing “social and economic suffering”.

A statement read out by a general on air denied it was a coup and said Mr Mugabe was safe, but did not say where.

Heavy gun and artillery fire could be heard in northern parts of the capital Harare early on Wednesday.

The army action comes after Mr Mugabe sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, amid a row over succession.

Latest reaction and updates

There was no immediate word from Mr Mugabe but Zimbabwe’s envoy to South Africa, Isaac Moyo, said the government was “intact”.

Mr Mugabe, 93, has dominated the impoverished country’s political scene since independence from the UK in 1980.

The UK Foreign Office advised Britons “currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer”, while the US embassy in Harare advised US citizens in Zimbabwe to “shelter in place” until further notice.

Skip Twitter post by @usembassyharare

Due to ongoing uncertainty in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Embassy in Harare will be minimally staffed and closed to the public on November 15.  Embassy personnel will continue to monitor the situation closely. @StateDept

— U.S. Embassy Harare (@usembassyharare) November 15, 2017 Report

End of Twitter post by @usembassyharare

How did the military justify its move?

Soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC broadcaster after armoured vehicles took up position on roads around Harare on Tuesday.

Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo went on air to say the military wished to “assure the nation that his Excellency the president… and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Armoured vehicles were seen taking up positions on roads outside Harare on Tuesday

“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes… that are causing social and economic suffering in the country,” he said.

“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

Other key points of the statement included:

It is not clear who is leading the military action. Army chief Gen Constantino Chiwenga, of inciting insurrection. Gen Chiwenga had said the army was prepared to act to end purges within the ruling Zanu-PF party.

Who has been detained?

A government source told Reuters news agency that Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo had been detained.

He is a leading member of a faction of Zanu-PF led by Mr Mugabe’s wife Grace.

Is this a coup?

Alex Magaisa, former adviser to Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, told the BBC he believed the military’s claim that they haven’t carried out a coup is untrue.

Image copyright AFP Image caption General Chiwenga had warned of a military takeover

“They have decided not to call it a coup because they know that a coup does not sell, it will be condemned,” he said.

“But as far as authority is concerned it seems very clear that President Mugabe is now just a president in name and authority is now residing in the military.”

Zanu-PF had accused Gen Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct” after he issued his warning that he army might intervene.

What do we know of the fighting?

The firing is coming from northern suburbs where Mr Mugabe and a number of government officials live, the BBC’s Shingai Nyoka reports from Harare.

A witness told AFP news agency it could be heard near Mr Mugabe’s residence in the suburb of Borrowdale early on Wednesday,

Some staff at ZBC were manhandled when the soldiers moved in, sources told Reuters. Workers were told that they “should not worry”, a source added, and that soldiers were only there to protect the site.

What was the political situation before the army acted?

Mr Mugabe sacked Mr Mnangagwa last week, amid a row over succession.

Mr Mnangagwa had previously been seen as an heir to the president, but First Lady Grace Mugabe is now the clear front-runner.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Grace Mugabe is seen as a potential successor to her elderly husband

The rivalry between Mrs Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa has split Zanu-PF.

Last month, Mrs Mugabe had warned of a possible coup plot, saying allies of Mr Mnangagwa were threatening the lives of those who didn’t support him.

Zanu-PF said Gen Chiwenga’s comments were “calculated to disturb national peace… [and] incite insurrection”.

The party said it would never succumb to military threats, and that it “reaffirms the primacy of politics over the gun”.

Gen Chiwengahad said the “purging” within Zanu-PF was “clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background”, referring to the country’s struggle for freedom from white minority rule.

Mr Mnangagwa is one such veteran of the 1970s war which ended white minority rule.

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