Zimbabwe’s Mugabe makes first public appearance since army takeover
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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe made his first public appearance since the military put him under house arrest this week, attending a graduation ceremony in Harare, even as the military announced "significant progress" on talks for his departure.
Clad in academic gown and hat, Mugabe walked slowly in a procession on a red carpet to a podium as a marching band played.
Once on the podium, Mugabe joined the crowd in singing Zimbabwe's national anthem. He announced the opening of the graduation ceremony, and the crowd applauded.
It was not clear whether Mugabe, whose presidential security detail was present, would speak at the ceremony or not.
Zimbabwe's military is taking pains to show respect for the 93-year-old leader, the world's oldest head of state, by referring to him as the president and the commander-in-chief. At the same time, it said Friday it was arresting and pursuing some people close to Mugabe and his wife, Grace Mugabe.
The military statement reported by the state-run Herald newspaper and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said military leaders are "engaging with the Commander-in-Chief President Robert Mugabe on the way forward and will advise the nation of the outcome as soon as possible."
"Significant progress has been made in their operation to weed out criminals around President Mugabe," the statement said, adding that the military had arrested some while others remained at large. Those sought had been "committing crimes that were causing social and economic suffering in Zimbabwe."
Meanwhile, a senior source within Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party said its leaders are meeting on Friday to draft a resolution to dismiss Mugabe at the weekend and prepare for his impeachment next week if he refuses to stand down.
“There is no going back,” the source told Reuters. “If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday. When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”
His comments came amid reports that the country’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking last week triggered the military takeover, has returned to the country.
"Yes, he is back," a prominent aide told AFP, adding that Mnangagwa, who is seen as a potential successor to Mugabe, had returned on Thursday after nearly a week abroad.
The G40 club
In a striking sign of the fluidity of the political situation, the Zimbabwe Herald on Thursday published photos of Mugabe jovially shaking hands with army commander Constantino Chiwenga, the general who ordered his arrest.
Mugabe reportedly refused to resign during the talks with Chiwenga, with sources suggesting the veteran leader was "buying time" to negotiate his exit.
The talks in Harare came after soldiers put Mugabe under house arrest, took over state TV and blockaded main roads in a stunning turnaround for the president who has ruled the country since 1980.
The military is seeking Cabinet ministers and other top officials who had been associates of the first lady, part of a clique dubbed the G40 because many were in their 40s and 50s. They are of a different generation from the one that fought for independence from white minority rule.
Grace Mugabe's rapid political rise had alarmed many who feared she could succeed her husband after he fired his longtime deputy, Mnangagwa, last week. That firing set off the military's moves, and Mnangagwa is expected to lead any new government.
There was no sign of the first lady at Friday's graduation ceremony.
Army troops and armored vehicles continued to patrol the capital, Harare, as Zimbabweans went about their daily business. Residents said they had feared at first when the military moved in but praised the current calm.
Headlines in some local newspapers declared the Mugabe era over. "Dawn of a new era," one said. "Mugabe remembered for brutal 37-year rule," said another.
The military wants the process of establishing the new government to appear to be constitutional in order to maintain a veneer of legality and the approval of the 16-nation regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, and the African Union.
As a landlocked country, regional sanctions by the bodies could be harmful to Zimbabwe's already ailing economy.
A committee of SADC on Thursday has recommended an emergency summit of heads of state to discuss the Zimbabwe situation. It was not clear when that would take place.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)