Zimbabwe's military appears to have seized power after having arresting senior officials and surrounding the parliament. AU President Alpha Conde has told DW that the body opposes "any form of seizure of power by force."
Longtime Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was arrested along with other senior officials early Wednesday morning in what appeared to be a military seizure of power.
South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed that he had spoken to the 93-year-old Mugabe, whom he said was "fine" and under house arrest.
Hours earlier, Major General SB Moyo had said on state television that the army's takeover of government offices, the parliament, the airport and state broadcaster was "not a military takeover."
"We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice," he said.
Armored vehicles and soldiers were seen throughout the capital city, Harare, Wednesday morning as many people rushed to withdraw money from banks.
African Union weighs in
DW interviewed African Union (AU) President Alpha Conde in Bonn, Germany, where he is attending the UN Climate Change conference. The AU leader condemned the military takeover, and said he hoped to speak to Mugabe in the next few hours.
"We in the African Union are against any seizure of power by force. I have therefore issued a communiqué inviting the army to return to its barracks and return to constitutional order. It is clear that we support the legitimate Zimbabwean government and will in no case accept the seizure of power by force."
"We are convinced that Zimbabweans will respect the Constitution and that the succession of President Mugabe will be democratic. The African Union is convinced of that," Conde said.
Grace Mugabe -- who reportedly fled to Namibia early Wednesday morning -- had been publically positioning herself to succeed her husband as president.
That ambition led to a public feud with former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had been seen as Mugabe's likely successor before the president fired him in early November.
Mnangagwa, often referred to by his nickname "the Crocodile," is a veteran of the country's independence struggle in the 1970s and popular with the country's military. Days after he was fired, the country's army chief, General Constantino Chiwenga, said he may be "obliged to take corrective measures."
Zimbabwe's power struggle: The key players
President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe, 93, has ruled Zimbabwe since the country's independence from Britain in 1980. Under the former resistance leader's administration, rampant inflation and economic mismanagement have ruined national living standards. In the struggle over his succession, Mugabe has sided with his wife, Grace, against former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who he fired in early November.
Grace, 52, had made no secret of her wish to succeed her husband, who she married in 1996. She publically called for the dismissal of Vice President Mnangagwa and pushed for the ruling ZANU-PF party to reserve party leadership for a woman. After Mnangagwa was ousted in early November, she said: "If you see yourself going against the chosen leadership, you are gone and finished."
Mnangagwa, 75, is a veteran of the country's 1970s liberation struggle and popular with the Zimbabwean military. Known as the "Crocodile," he was picked by Mugabe as vice president in late 2014. He had been expected to succeed the aging president before he and around 100 of his allies were fired in early November. He reportedly fled to South Africa shortly thereafter.
General Constantino Chiwenga
Zimbabwe's military chief appears to be leading Wednesday's intervention against Mugabe's inner circle. Despite the optics, his deputy said it was "not a military takeover." On Tuesday, Chiwenga warned "counter-revolutionary infiltrators" in the ZANU-PF to stop purging his allies and threatened military intervention. The party responded by accusing the general of "treasonable conduct."
The 35-year-old leader of ZANU-PF's youth wing has supported Grace Mugabe's bid for power. After General Chiwenga's threatened intervention on Tuesday, Chipanga fired back, saying: "We in our millions will not let an individual military man interfere with the leader of the party and legitimately voted president of the country." Chipanga was also reportedly detained on Wednesday.
Ignatius Morgan Chombo
The finance minister, who was appointed in October, has long been a key ally of Robert and Grace Mugabe. Chombo is one of the leading voices within the ZANU-PF supporting Grace's bid for power. The military reportedly detained the 65-year-old on Wednesday. (Author: Alexander Pearson)
Supporters of change
Zimbabwe's influential war veterans' association, which had supported Mnangagwa, welcomed the military's intervention on Wednesday and called for President Mugabe's removal.
Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the war veterans' group, said in Johannesburg, South Africa that the head of the military had carried out "a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power."
He added that the army would usher Zimbabwe in a "better business environment" after years of disinvestment and economic decline and called on South Africa, southern Africa and the West to re-engage with the embattled nation.
The president of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and former Finance Minister Tendai Biti told DW that while he condemned the military takeover, he felt it was time for President Mugabe to quit.
"We acknowledge that there are genuine issues in Zimbabwe that need redress," he said. "There is an economic crisis, there is a political crisis centered on President Mugabe. (... ) There is the serious danger of a dynastic takeover by President Mugabe's wife."
No more 'tyrants'
South African President Zuma urged the Zimbabwean government and army to resolve their differences amicably and warned against any "unconstitutional changes" of government.
The US State Department said Washington was "concerned by recent actions undertaken by Zimbabwe's military forces" and called on the country's leaders to exercise restraint as uncertainty continues.
The European Union and Britain also expressed concern and called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
"Recent political developments in Zimbabwe and their spillover, including in relation to the country's security forces are a matter of concern," said an EU Commission spokesman.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the British Parliament: "nobody wants simply to see the transition from one unelected tyrant to a next. (...) We want to see proper, free and fair elections."
(dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)