Zimbabwe’s army denied it had carried out a coup after taking over the state broadcaster in the early hours of Wednesday, even as military vehicles took to the streets of the Zimbabwean capital and prolonged gunfire was heard near the presidential residence.
Military officers read an address live on state TV, saying President Robert Mugabe was “safe” and his “security is guaranteed”.
“It is not a military takeover of government,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement. “We wish to assure the nation that his excellency the president… and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.
“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.
“As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
The address came hours after several loud explosions echoed across central Harare and troops seized the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster.
“Although it doesn’t look like a coup, it is a coup,” Zimbabwe analyst Alex Magaisa, a senior Zimbabwe legal analyst based in the UK, told The Telegraph.
Several cabinet ministers, including local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and finance minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were arrested. There was allegedly a brief gun fight outside Mr Chombo’s house.
Speculation had been mounting throughout the day that a coup was under way against Mr Mugabe, after the head of the armed forces threatened to “step in” over the sacking of an influential vice president.
Zimbabwe’s ruling party accused General Constantine Chiwenga of treason over his comments, after the rare appearance of the military vehicles in Harare.
Gunfire erupted near Mr Mugabe’s private residence in Harare in the early hours of Wednesday, a witness told AFP.
“From the direction of his house, we heard about 30 or 40 shots fired over three or four minutes soon after 2.00 am,” a resident who lives close to Mugabe’s mansion in the suburb of Borrowdale said.
Armed soldiers were assaulting passers-by in the early morning hours in Harare, according to the Associated Press, while officers were seen loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles.
Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness. “Don’t try anything funny. Just go,” one told a Reuters reporter on Harare Drive.
Two hours later, soldiers overran ZBC, a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.
Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the southern African nation’s capital, near the University of Zimbabwe campus, witnesses said.