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updated: 11/15/2017 2:29 PM

After 37 years, rule of Zimbabwe's Mugabe appears to be over

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  • Soldier man their position with a military vehicle outside the office of President Robert Mugabe, in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.   Zimbabwe's military controls the capital and the state broadcaster, Wednesday, and is understood to be holding 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his wife under house arrest.

    Soldier man their position with a military vehicle outside the office of President Robert Mugabe, in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's military controls the capital and the state broadcaster, Wednesday, and is understood to be holding 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his wife under house arrest.
    Associated Press

  • An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

    An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
    Associated Press

  • Zimbabweans queue outside a bank to withdraw cash as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.  In an extraordinary statement after taking over the state broadcaster during a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army said early Wednesday it was only targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover."

    Zimbabweans queue outside a bank to withdraw cash as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. In an extraordinary statement after taking over the state broadcaster during a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army said early Wednesday it was only targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover."
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this June, 2, 2017 file photo Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace follow proceedings during a youth rally in Marondera Zimbabwe.

    FILE - In this June, 2, 2017 file photo Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace follow proceedings during a youth rally in Marondera Zimbabwe.
    Associated Press

  • In this image made from video, Major Gen. S.B. Moyo, Spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Defense Forces addresses to the nation in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. The army spokesman said early Wednesday the military is targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order will be restored. (ZBC via AP)

    In this image made from video, Major Gen. S.B. Moyo, Spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Defense Forces addresses to the nation in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. The army spokesman said early Wednesday the military is targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order will be restored. (ZBC via AP)
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Saturday Feb. 27, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attend his birthday celebrations in Masvingo.

    FILE - In this Saturday Feb. 27, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attend his birthday celebrations in Masvingo.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace Mugabe chant the party's slogan during a solidarity rally in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, it has Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

    FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace Mugabe chant the party's slogan during a solidarity rally in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, it has Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Sept, 1, 2017, file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses party supporters at a rally in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, it has Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

    FILE - In this Sept, 1, 2017, file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses party supporters at a rally in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, it has Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwean Deputy President Emmerson Mnanangagwa chants the party slogan at a Zanu PF conference in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.

    FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwean Deputy President Emmerson Mnanangagwa chants the party slogan at a Zanu PF conference in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
    Associated Press

  • Zimbabweans check newspapers as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.  In an extraordinary statement after taking over the state broadcaster during a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army said early Wednesday it was only targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover."

    Zimbabweans check newspapers as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. In an extraordinary statement after taking over the state broadcaster during a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army said early Wednesday it was only targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover."
    Associated Press

  • Armed soldiers stand by an armored vehicle on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

    Armed soldiers stand by an armored vehicle on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
    Associated Press

  • A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.

    A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.
    Associated Press

  • AN armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

    AN armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
    Associated Press

  • A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabes office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.

    A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabes office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.
    Associated Press

  • Armed soldiers stand on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.

    Armed soldiers stand on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.
    Associated Press

  • Armed soldiers stop a vehicle to search on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.

    Armed soldiers stop a vehicle to search on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor.
    Associated Press

  • Armed soldiers patrol a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

    Armed soldiers patrol a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
    Associated Press

  • A street vendor sells fruits on the streets of Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. In an extraordinary statement after taking over the state broadcaster during a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army said early Wednesday it was only targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover."

    A street vendor sells fruits on the streets of Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. In an extraordinary statement after taking over the state broadcaster during a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army said early Wednesday it was only targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover."
    Associated Press

 
 

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe's military was in control of the capital and the state broadcaster on Wednesday and was holding President Robert Mugabe and his wife under house arrest in what appeared to be a coup against the 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state.

The military was at pains, however, to emphasize it had not staged a military takeover, but was instead starting a process to restore Zimbabwe's democracy.

Still, the military appeared to have brought an end to Mugabe's long, 37-year reign in what the army's supporters praised as a "bloodless correction." South Africa and other neighboring countries were sending in leaders to negotiate with Mugabe and the generals to encourage the transition.

Citizens in Zimbabwe's tidy capital, Harare, contributed to the feeling of a smooth transition by carrying on with their daily lives, walking past the army's armored personnel carriers to go to work and to shops. Many who have never known any leader but Mugabe waited in long lines at banks to draw limited amounts of cash, a result of this once-prosperous country's plummeting economy.

Felix Tsanganyiso, who sells mobile airtime vouchers in Harare, said he was following the developments on WhatsApp.

"But I am still in the dark about what is happening," he said. "So far so good. We are going about our business without harassment. My plea is that whoever takes over should sort out the economy. We are tired of living like this."

The series of whiplash events followed Mugabe's firing last week of his deputy, which appeared to position the first lady, Grace Mugabe, to replace Emmerson Mnangagwa as one of the country's two vice presidents at a party conference next month.

But the 52-year-old first lady is unpopular among many Zimbabweans for her lavish spending on mansions, cars and jewels. Last month she went to court to sue a diamond dealer for not supplying her with a 100-carat diamond that she said she had paid for.

Grace Mugabe has been known as the leader of the G40, a group of Cabinet ministers and officials in their 40s and 50s who are too young to have fought in Zimbabwe's war to end white-minority rule in Rhodesia. When Mnangagwa was fired, the generals and war veterans felt they were being sidelined and took action to stop that, analysts say.

Mnangagwa's whereabouts were not clear Wednesday. He fled the country last week, citing threats to himself and his family.

Critics of the government urged Mugabe to go quietly. "The old man should be allowed to rest," former Zimbabwe finance minister and activist Tendai Biti told South African broadcaster eNCA.

On Monday, the army commander made an unprecedented statement criticizing Mugabe for pushing aside veterans of the liberation war. The following day, the ruling party condemned the army leader for "treasonable conduct" and that evening the army sent armored personnel carriers into Harare and seized control of the state broadcaster and other strategic points, including Mugabe's residence.

In a televised address to the nation early Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo said the army had "guaranteed" the safety of Mugabe and his wife, but added the military would target "criminals" around Mugabe, in an apparent reference to the first lady's G40 group.

South African President Jacob Zuma said he was sending his ministers of defense and state security to Zimbabwe to meet with Mugabe and the military there. He said he hopes Zimbabwe's army will respect the constitution and that the situation "is going to be controlled."

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said the Trump administration was "concerned by recent actions undertaken by Zimbabwe's military forces" and called on the country's leaders to exercise restraint. The United States "does not take sides in matters of internal Zimbabwean politics and does not condone military intervention in political processes," it said in a statement.

Who will rule Zimbabwe should become clearer in the coming days.

"There is a soft transition underway," said Zimbabwean analyst Alex Rusero.

"The whole idea is that the military has always been the chief broker" in Mugabe's ruling party, he said. "But there were attempts to sideline the military by G40 and (the military) are reasserting their position."

Mnangagwa may well be installed as a transitional leader to return Zimbabwe to constitutional rule, Rusero said.

Zimbabwe may enter a period of negotiation to get Mugabe to step down voluntarily, said Piers Pigou, southern Africa consultant for the International Crisis Group, who also suggested that Mnangagwa may be an interim leader.

"Zimbabwe could have some kind of inclusive government and some kind of democratic process, possibly leading to elections," Pigou said. "It's clearly a coup d'etat, but typical of Zimbabwe, the military is trying to put a veneer of legality on the process. ... It is part of the theater that Zimbabwe is so good at, to try to make things look orderly and democratic. South Africa and other neighboring countries may be brought in to help put some lipstick on the pig."

___

Meldrum reported from Johannesburg.

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