‘Smiling’ Mugabe refuses to step down

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe refused to resign at a crunch meeting yesterday with military generals, who have seized control of the country, and South African envoys.

The talks in Harare came after tumultuous days in which soldiers blockaded key roads, took over state TV and put the veteran leader under house arrest.

“They met today. He is refusing to step down. I think he is trying to buy time,” a source close to the army leaders said.

Mugabe’s motorcade took him from his private residence to State House for the talks, which included envoys from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc, including South Africa’s Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo.

A Catholic priest, Father Fidelis Mukonori, who has known Mugabe and his family since the 1970s, was also present.

Government TV showed a smiling Mugabe in a navy blue blazer and grey trousers standing alongside army chief General Constantino Chiwenga, who was dressed in camouflage military fatigues.

During the negotiations, there was an impasse as the army pressed for Mugabe to reinstate Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice-president.

Mugabe‚ a wily negotiator‚ had then demanded that the army should first acknowledge they were acting outside legal provisions‚ sources said.

The state-run Herald news site said talks were ongoing.

Zimbabwe was left stunned at the military intervention against Mugabe, 93, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980.

Despite Mugabe’s refusal to resign, attention has shifted to the prominent figures who could play a role in any transitional government.

Morgan Tsvangirai, a former prime minister and long-time opponent of Mugabe, told journalists in Harare that Mugabe must resign “in the interest of the people”.

He said a transitional mechanism would be needed to ensure stability.

Tendai Biti, an internationally respected figure who was finance minister during the coalition government after the 2008 elections, called it “a very delicate time for Zimbabwe”.

“A way has to be worked out to maintain stability.

“That restoration requires a roadmap and to address the grievances that have led to this situation,” he said.

Mugabe’s advanced age, poor health and listless public performances fuelled a bitter succession battle between his wife, Grace, and Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe sacked as vice- president last week.

Mnangagwa, 75, fled to South Africa and published a scathing five-page rebuke of Mugabe’s leadership and Grace’s presidential ambitions.

Political analyst Earnest Mudzengi said: “People want the constitution to be upheld.

“The talks should look at how to deal with the issue in a progressive manner.”

Eldred Masunungure, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said the formation of a pre-election coalition could be a viable response to the crisis.

The international community has been watching closely.

In Paris, the head of the African Union, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, warned that the continent would never accept the military coup in Zimbabwe and called for a return to the constitutional order.

“[Problems] need to be resolved politically by Zanu-PF and not with an intervention by the army,” Conde said.

A meeting of the SADC in Botswana yesterday called for an emergency regional summit to help resolve the crisis.

The bloc urged Zimbabwe to “settle the political challenges through peaceful means”.

Britain demanded that elections scheduled for next year go ahead.

– Additional reporting by TimesLIVE

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