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Mugabe’s Feud With Zimbabwe’s Military Grows Amid Coup Rumors

The New York Times logo The New York Times 5 days ago By JEFFREY MOYO
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, arrived at ZANU-PF party headquarters last week during a rally in support of Mrs. Mugabe becoming the next vice president. © Jekesai Njikizana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, arrived at ZANU-PF party headquarters last week during a rally in support of Mrs. Mugabe becoming the next vice president.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s military leaders made good on a threatto intervene in the country’s politics early Wednesday when two uniformed officers appeared on television, apparently after seizing control of the state broadcaster, to address the nation.

The predawn appearance came after a long night of rumors and sketchy reports in Harare, the capital, that a coup might be underway against the government of the country’s longtime president, Robert G. Mugabe.

One of the officers, Maj. Gen. S. B. Moyo, reading from a statement, said that the action was not a military takeover, and that “Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.”

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“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” General Moyo said, warning that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”

Hours earlier, the United States Embassy said on its website that “as a result of the ongoing political uncertainty through the night, the ambassador has instructed all employees to remain home tomorrow.”

American citizens, the embassy said, “are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice.”

The streets of Harare were largely empty as rain fell.

Asked in a telephone interview about reports of a possible coup, the country’s information minister, Simon Khaya Moyo, said: “What can I say? I don’t know about that.” He did not elaborate.

The question of who will succeed Mr. Mugabe, 93, the nation’s leader since 1980, has long haunted Zimbabwe and its political class and led to conflicts among its members even as the country’s once-promising economy shriveled.

A long-simmering feud boiled over last week when Mr. Mugabe summarily expelled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa from the government and the governing ZANU-PF party, a move that was widely seen as clearing the path for Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, as a possible successor.

Since his removal, the whereabouts of Mr. Mnangagwa, who like Mr. Mugabe was a veteran of the country’s struggle for independence, has been shrouded in mystery.

In a remarkable act of defiance, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, warned on Monday that “when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”

Neither the military nor Mr. Mugabe issued any public statements on Tuesday even as rumors of a possible coup surfaced on social media and in the streets of Harare. But Mr. Moyo, asserted in a statement that “the ruling ZANU-PF reaffirms the primacy of politics over the gun.”

Mr. Moyo, who is also the party’s national secretary for information and publicity, said the statement by General Chiwenga “suggests treasonable conduct on his part as this was meant to incite insurrection and violent challenge to constitutional order.”

“Purporting to speak on behalf of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces,” he said, “was not only surprising but was an outrageous vitiation of professional soldiership and his wartime record as high-ranking freedom fighter, entrusted with command responsibilities in a free and democratic Zimbabwe.”

Mr. Moyo’s statement, broadcast during the evening news hour on state television, came hours after a leader of the party’s Youth League made similar remarks at the ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare.

Kudzanayi Chipanga, the youth league’s secretary, suggested that military officers unhappy with the government should first return to civilian life if they wanted to become politicians.

“General Chiwenga and all those in the security sector who wish to engage in politics are free to throw their hats in the ring and not hide behind the barrel of the gun,” said Mr. Chipanga, a favorite of Zimbabwe’s first family.

The youth league accused the general of siding with a faction loyal to Mr. Mnangagwa. The league has urged that Mrs. Mugabe be endorsed as the new vice president in a party conference scheduled for next month.

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