Zimbabwe’s military took control of the country and its longtime leader President Robert Mugabe early Wednesday, capping a political showdown over Mugabe’s apparent attempts to install his wife as successor.

A televised announcement after tanks and troops rolled into the capital, Harare, insisted it was “not a military takeover.”

Despite the assurances, the events bore all the hallmarks of a coup, with military vehicles stationed around the city, the army taking over the television station and a uniformed general issuing a statement.

The move by army Gen. Constantino Chiwenga came as the struggle over who will succeed the country’s increasingly frail 93-year-old leader came to a head. Mugabe has ruled since he led the country to independence from white minority rule in 1980.

“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” said the statement read by Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo. “We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country.”

 The fate of Mugabe and his wife, 52-year-old Grace Mugabe, who increasingly looked set to succeed him, was unclear but they appear to be in military custody.

“Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,” said Moyo. Mugabe’s offices had a tank blocking the road in front of it and large numbers of soldiers milling around.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who is sending high level envoys to Harare, said he spoke to Mugabe and he is “fine” — albeit confined to his home.

The possible ouster of Mugabe would remove one of the fixtures of African affairs for nearly four decades as an unwavering critic of many Western policies and international institutions.

Mugabe’s supporters hail him for moves such as dismantling white-owned estates and other holdings. Yet he also was reviled as a despot who brutally crushed dissent and allowing the once-envied country to sink into a cycle of deepening poverty and stratospheric inflation.

Overnight, witnesses reported tanks and soldiers moving around the city along with sounds of gunfire and explosions. By morning, soldiers in armored vehicles controlled major intersections near government buildings.

 In Harare’s central business district, local residents said all seemed normal with itinerant vendors taking advantage of the many closed businesses to sell their wares at intersections.

Police and plainclothes agents normally stationed around the Parliament building could be seen sitting on the ground surrounded by armed soldiers. Local media reported that several members of the ZANU-PF ruling party have been detained by the military, including cabinet ministers.

The ruling party’s Twitter account, which had been silent for more than a month, exploded in a string of tweets maintaining that there was no coup going on but just the army rescuing the nation from having its constitution undermined.

“Zimbabwe is open for business. There was no coup, but a bloodless peaceful transition,” said one tweet while another noted “an elderly man who had been taken advantage of by his wife being detained,” an apparent reference to Mugabe.

Political analyst Mike Mavura said it was important for the military to say this was not a coup for reasons of international legitimacy.

READ MORE:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/zimbabawe-military-takes-over-the-country-says-president-mugabe-is-safe/2017/11/15/086865c2-c9d2-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_zimbabwe-245am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.44040314f71e

SOURCE: WASHINGTONPOST