Numerous tanks and military vehicles were seen traveling or parked on the road to Zimbabwe’s capital Tuesday amid a political crisis involving strongman President Robert Mugabe.
And early Wednesday, at least three explosions rocked the streets of Harare and armed soldiers and military vehicles were seen in the streets.
Zimbabwe’s army announced that “this is not a military takeover” and that Mugabe and his family were safe.
“We are only targeting criminals around who him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” the army announced on state-run media.
The troop movements occurred one day after Zimbabwe’s military warned Mugabe it would “step in” if he continued a purge within the ruling party that included firing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Images posted on Twitter showed tanks and trucks loaded with troops, reportedly traveling along the road toward the capital Harare. Other images showed tanks and armored troop carriers stopped along the road.
Zimbabwe’s ruling party denied anything was amiss on its Twitter account.
“There is NO coup happening in Zimbabwe. Please continue with your lives and face up to your own problems,” tweeted the country’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).
Mugabe, 93, one of the longest ruling leaders in the world, came to power in 1980 during the country’s war of liberation against white-run former British colony Rhodesia. Last week, he sacked Mnangagwa, a former defense minister with strong ties to the military, replacing him with Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52.
Zimbabwe’s army chief on Monday demanded a “stop” to the purge in the ruling party, AFP reported.
“The current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith,” Gen. Constantino Chiwenga told a news conference attended by about 90 senior army officers.
“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” he said in a statement.
The Zanu-PF issued a statement Tuesday calling Chiwenga’s statement treasonous. The party “reaffirms the primacy of politics over the gun,” the statement said.
Mnangagwa, nicknamed the “Crocodile,” fled the country and issued a defiant statement. The Zanu-PF party is “not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please,” he said, according to The Guardian newspaper.
As tensions rose Tuesday, several Zimbabwe observers noted that despite the troop movements, the capital remained relatively calm.
“For what its worth, no foreign embassies in Zimbabwe have as yet issued any advisories noting unusual troop movements in Harare,” wrote Ryan Cummings, director of Signal Risk, which advises organizations on safe travel in Africa. “Their actions amid uncertain political developments is often best gauge of situation available.”
Reuters reporter Joe Brock described the capital as calm, and analysts dismissed talk of a coup attempt as premature despite an apparent rupture between Mugabe and the military.
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