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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Defiant Mugabe refuses to stand down

The 93-year-old faces impeachment after he pledged to stay on as president of Zimbabwe, even though the ruling party had removed him as its leader hours earlier

Zimbabweans watch a televised address to the nation by President Robert Mugabe at a bar in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. AP / Ben Curtis
Zimbabweans watch a televised address to the nation by President Robert Mugabe at a bar in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. AP / Ben Curtis

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has stunned the nation by vowing to stay on as president, despite intensifying pressure on him to resign.

In a live TV address on Sunday night, the ruler of the African country said he would preside over a Zanu-PF congress in December even though the party had sacked him as its leader earlier in the day.

The party had told the 93-year-old he must resign as president within 24 hours or face impeachment, in an attempt to secure a peaceful end to his tenure after a de facto military coup.

Chris Mutsvangwa, the leader of Zimbabwe's war veterans who has been spearheading a campaign to oust Mugabe, said that plans to impeach him would now proceed.

Three unnamed senior party officials cited by Bloomberg also said impeachment proceedings will begin on Monday.

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Read more:

Zimbabwe crisis: Pressure grows for Mugabe to exit

Mugabe makes first public appearance since military takeover

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The political crisis began last week after Mugabe's decision to fire Emmerson Mnangagwa from the position of vice-president prompted the military to intervene and place him under house arrest.

There had been concerns that Mugabe, who has ruled the nation for 37 years, intended to install his wife Grace as his successor.

The first lady was also expelled from the party on Sunday, while Mnangagwa was appointed as the new party leader.

Delivering a nationally televised address from his State House office, flanked by armed forces commanders, Mugabe frequently lost his place and had to repeat parts of the speech, which lasted 20 minutes.

He did acknowledge criticism against him from Zanu-PF, the military and the public, saying: "Whatever the pros and cons of how they [the army] went about their operation, I, as commander-in-chief, do acknowledge their concerns."

However, in an apparent deviation from his agreed-upon speech, he did not comment on the possibility of standing down.

Instead, he said the events of the past week were not "a challenge to my authority as head of state and government", and pledged to preside over the congress scheduled for next month.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he was dumbstruck.

"I am baffled. It's not just me, it's the whole nation. He's playing a game," he told Reuters. "He is trying to manipulate everyone. He has let the whole nation down."

Many Zimbabweans also took to social media expressing their shock and disappointment at Mugabe's defiance.

On Saturday, joyous crowds had turned out in Harare and Bulawayo - Zimbabwe’s second-largest city - to celebrate what was thought to be Mugabe's imminent departure.

In jubilant scenes, men, women and children ran alongside armoured cars and the troops who stepped in to target what the army called "criminals" in Mugabe's inner circle.

Many heralded a "second liberation" and spoke of their dreams for political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

Now, as the political limbo drags on, the people are expected to take to the streets again, this time in protest.

According to a text message sent by Chris Mutsvangwa to Reuters shortly after Mugabe's speech, crowds will gather in Harare on Wednesday as the pressure continues to mount for a change in leadership.