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Armed forces deny staging coup against Mugabe

ZIMBABWE’S armed forces insisted yesterday that there was "no violation of constitutional processes" in their nine-day-old coup against former president Robert Mugabe.

That followed Wednesday night’s admission by his anointed successor, sacked vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, that he had been in contact with the top brass “throughout” the takeover.

A statement from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) said that it looked forward to a "massive gathering" for Mr Mnangagwa’s inauguration as president today.

The ruling Zanu-PF party, which purged Mr Mugabe and his supporters and appointed Mr Mnangagwa as leader on Sunday, has said the ceremony will take place at the 60,000-seat National Sports Stadium in the capital Harare.

But Zimbabwean legal think tank Veritas said “phantom” Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko is legally acting president until then, although his whereabouts remain unknown since he flew to Japan before the takeover last week.

Mr Mphoko succeeded Mr Mnangagawa when he was sacked by Mr Mugabe on November 6 for plotting to overthrow him.

Veritas said: "The fact that he was outside the country at the time is of no legal consequence.”

Mr Mugabe has not been seen since his Sunday TV appearance, although authorities in Zimbabwe have agreed to grant the former president immunity from prosecution and assured him of his safety in his home country.

Main opposition Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Obert Gutu pronounced himself "cautiously optimistic” of Mr Mnangagwa’s rule but demanded that "the electoral playing field” be “evened up” before next year’s election.

Preacher Evan Mawarire, who led anti-government protests last year, said that the country should be for everyone and not just the ruling party.

Mr Mnangagwa remains on a US sanctions list for leading an alleged crackdown on the MDC in the 2008 presidential election.

Speaking to supporters on Wednesday night after flying back from his hiding place in neighbouring South Africa, Mr Mnangagwa explained his absence as prompted by assassination threats.

He said within two hours of being sacked: “I was informed about a plan to eliminate me.”

He also claimed to have survived a poisoning attempt on August 12 that required him to be airlifted to South Africa for treatment.

He thanked the ZDF and its commander General Constantino Chiwenga for their “very disciplined” management of the “process.”

“I was in constant contact with the service chiefs throughout,” he said.

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