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Zimbabwe on edge after army chief’s warning to Mugabe

Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (C,R) and Valerio Sibanda Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (C,L) address a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare. AFP PHOTO

Harare, Zimbabwe | AFP |  Zimbabwe was reeling Tuesday after the army warned it could intervene if President Robert Mugabe continued to purge veteran ruling party figures in an apparent effort to help his wife succeed him.

Both the ruling party’s youth wing and the main opposition party called for civilian rule to be protected, while analysts called the crisis a potential turning point.

Army chief General Constantino Chiwenga on Monday warned Mugabe to “stop” purges of the ruling ZANU-PF party after the president abruptly sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa last week.

Mnangagwa had clashed repeatedly with First Lady Grace Mugabe who is widely seen as vying to replace the 93-year-old leader when he dies.

“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,” Chiwenga told top brass at Harare’s King George VI military headquarters in an unprecedented intervention.

He appeared to be referring to the increasingly open efforts of Grace Mugabe to elevate her public position and publicly undermine her opponents — including Mnangagwa.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called for civilian rule to be defended following Chiwenga’s threat.

“No one wants to see a coup — not that I am saying there is going to be a coup. If the army takes over that will be undesirable. It will bring democracy to a halt, and that is not healthy for a nation,” the MDC’s shadow defence minister, Gift Chimanikire, told AFP.

ZANU-PF’s Youth League, which strongly supports Grace Mugabe, said in a statement that Chiwenga would not be allowed to pick Zimbabwe’s leaders.

“We will stand guard in defence of the revolution — like the people of Turkey last year who repelled rogue security forces from interfering with an elected government,” it said.

Neither the ZBC state broadcaster nor the government-run Herald daily covered the army chief’s open threat to Mugabe, prompting senior commanders to demand why his intervention went unreported.

Speculation has been rife in Harare that Mugabe could now remove Chiwenga who is seen as an ally of ousted Mnangagwa.

The crisis “marks another landmark ominous moment in the ongoing race to succeed” Mugabe, said political analyst Alex Magaisa in an online article.

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