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Mugabe sidelined as army takes over

Generals claim they’re ‘targeting criminals’ not seizing power

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe was “confined” to his home yesterday after a military coup.

The armed forces seized control of the capital Harare overnight on the orders of General Constantino Chiweng after Mr Mugabe sacked vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa for allegedly plotting to overthrow him.

After taking over the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation military spokesman Major General Sibusiso Moyo claimed it was not a coup.

He said: “We are only targeting criminals” around Mr Mugabe who had caused “economic suffering.”

But witnesses said yesterday they had seen police in the capital being rounded up by troops.

The takeover came less than two weeks since Mr Mnangagwa’s sacking.

Gen Chiwenga was in China on Friday meeting Defence Minister Chang Wanquan. But the ministry insisted yesterday that was a “normal military exchange.”

Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association secretary-general Victor Matemadanda welcomed the coup, saying Mr Mugabe must be “recalled.”

“We urge all political parties to support the transition to a better Zimbabwe,” he added.

In neighbouring South Africa, President Jacob Zuma said he had spoken by phone to Mr Mugabe, who insisted he was “fine” but “confined” to his home.

But it was unclear whether first lady Grace Mugabe — tipped as the next president — was also under house arrest, with rumours flying that she had fled the country.

Mr Zuma warned against “unconstitutional changes of government” and dispatched Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security minister Bongani Bongo to Harare to meet both Mr Mugabe and the military leadership.

The Zimbabwe Communist Party said: “Military action in normal circumstances cannot be condoned.”

But general secretary Ngqabutho Mabhena said: “The concentration of power into fewer and fewer hands, and the closing of all normal avenues of popular control or dissent” had led to the coup which was “welcomed by the majority of Zimbabweans with varying degrees of enthusiasm.”

Neither British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson nor Labour shadow Emily Thornberry condemned the coup.

Mr Johnson said: “At the moment it’s very fluid and it’s hard to say exactly how this will turn out,” while Ms Thornberry commented: “The continuation of authoritarian rule does not represent a sustainable way forward for Zimbabwe, no matter which faction ends up in control.”

Tory MP and former Africa minister James Duddridge pressed Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions to support “less bloody” regime change against Mr Mugabe’s “nasty dictatorship.”

He said: “Providing Mugabe with a soft landing outside of Zimbabwe which, while distasteful given everything that he has done and has been done in his name, will allow for a less bloody transition.”

Ms May urged “restraint on all sides” during the “unusual military activities” and said the government’s priority was the safety of British citizens.

Mr Duddridge worked for transnational bank Barclays for 10 years, including in Zimbabwe’s neighbours Swaziland and Botswana.

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