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Defiant Mugabe makes first public appearance since military takeover

AFP
Published : Nov 18, 2017, 2:05 am IST
Updated : Nov 18, 2017, 2:07 am IST

Dressed in a blue academic gown and tasselled hat, Mugabe makes first public appearance since military takeover.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (centre) arrives to preside over a student  graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare. (Photo: AP)
 Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (centre) arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare. (Photo: AP)

Harare: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attended a university graduation ceremony on Friday, making a first public appearance since the military takeover that appeared to signal the end of his 37-year reign.

Despite his show of defiance, pressure mounted on the 93-year-old leader to quit as veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war — key players in the country’s power structure — called for mass anti-Mugabe demonstrations on Saturday.

Mr Mugabe, 93, had been confined to house arrest after the military took over the country.

But on Friday, he walked into the ceremony venue in Harare dressed in a blue academic gown and tasselled hat, before listening to speeches with his eyes closed and applauding occasionally.

The Generals took over on Tuesday after vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa was abruptly sacked and Mr Mugabe’s wife Grace emerged in prime position to succeed her increasingly frail husband.

Mr Mnangagwa, who had fled abroad after his firing, returned to the country on Thursday and seems poised to play a central role in shaping developments.

Mr Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and many citizens were stunned by the military’s intervention, which was sparked by the bitter succession battle between Ms Grace and Mr Mnangagwa.

“I’m happy with what the army has done, at least now we’ve got a future for our kids,” Teslin Khumbula, the owner of a security company, said.

“We don’t want Mugabe anymore... Please — everyone go to the streets.”

Analysts say the military leadership was strongly opposed to the rise of Mugabe’s ambitious 52-year-old wife, while Mnangagwa has close ties to the defence establishment.

Mr Mugabe and the Army chiefs held talks on Thursday, but no official statement was issued on the status of negotiations that could see him eased out of office.

Government television showed Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, at the talks smiling alongside army chief General Constantino Chiwenga. Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the independence war veterans’ association which is seen as supporting Mr Mnangagwa, said Friday that “the game is up” for Mugabe and called for a protests against the president.

“It’s done, it’s finished... The generals have done a fantastic job,” he said at a press conference in Harare as he called for a mass demonstration on Saturday.

“We want to restore our pride and tomorrow is the day... we can finish the job which the Army started.”

Tags: robert mugabe, emmerson mnangagwa, zimbabwe army