Ex-PM Morgan Tsvangirai returns to Zimbabwe amid military 'coup'

APN Agencies

Zimbabwe’s defeated ex-prime minister has returned to the country as politicians eye opportunities for power while President Robert Mugabe is under house arrest.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader who was made Mr Mugabe’s deputy between 2009 and 2013 after he saw a surge in support in elections, was on the same plane into Harare as Sky News.

Sky correspondent David Bowden reported that also on the plane were two other government ministers, who were returning to their country from Russia.

It came after the army seized power in the country in what the leader of the African Union said looked like a “coup”.

Mr Mugabe is being detained in the presidential palace, where explosions and gunshots were heard early on Wednesday.

The army said it was holding the president and his wife Grace, but there have also been rumours she had fled to Namibia.

Bowden said: “People are gathering here to see how this plays out and what they can grab from the spoils.”

He added: “As we left the airport there were heavily armed soldiers on checkpoints, checking every vehicle in, and every vehicle out.

“As we moved through the streets driven by a local activist we came upon an armoured personnel carrier full of soldiers who quickly raced out and chased us round the corner as soon as they realised we were filming them.

“We were convinced they might open fire – but they didn’t. It gives you an idea of the tension on the streets here… but it’s a tension laced with expectation.

“People seem to think that something concrete is going to happen. They don’t know what it is but they do know that once it plays out Zimbabwe will not be the same as it has been for the last 37 years.”

Earlier, African Union leader Alpha Conde, said: “The African Union expresses its serious concern regarding the situation unfolding in Zimbabwe.”

He went on to insist that “constitutional order… be restored immediately” and called “on all stakeholders to show responsibility and restraint”.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for calm, non-violence and restraint after gunfire and explosions were heard near Mr Mugabe’s compound.

On Monday, the head of the armed forces had warned that a “purge” of government political figures who had taken part in the 1970s wars of independence had to “stop”.

The sacking of the vice president and Mr Mugabe’s likely successor Emmerson Mnangagwa, last week, was seen as clearing the way for Mrs Mugabe to take over from her husband, after she won the support of ZANU-PF’s youth wing.

The military said it was taking control of the streets, blocking roads to the parliament and court to target “criminals”.

The head of the youth wing of Zimbabwe’s ruling party appeared on state television on Wednesday night, to apologise to the military

Kudzai Chipanga said he had voluntarily given his statement apologising for denigrating defence forces chief General Constantino Chiwenga.

Bowden said many people he had spoken to felt it could be the end of Mr Mugabe, who had maintained an iron grip on the southern African former British colony for 37 years.

He said: “Everybody you speak to doesn’t know the outcome of what is going to happen here – but everybody knows this is a seminal moment in the history of this country.

“It seems as though this is the endgame for Robert Mugabe. Now all we need to know is how it is managed.

“Does he leave the country saving face? Does he stay here as some kind of titular head with the government being run by somebody else? It’s unknowable.”

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