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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Zimbabwe's ruling party prepares to impeach Mugabe

Zanu-PF's bid to remove president comes after he ignored ultimatum to step down

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe (right) greets the commander of the country's air force, Perence Shiri (centre), before a meeting with military and security chiefs at the State House in Harare on November 19, 2017. The Herald handout / EPA
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe (right) greets the commander of the country's air force, Perence Shiri (centre), before a meeting with military and security chiefs at the State House in Harare on November 19, 2017. The Herald handout / EPA

Zimbabwe's ruling party said on Monday that it would go ahead with its impeachment of president Robert Mugabe after he ignored its noon deadline to step down voluntarily.

The 93-year-old leader flouted expectations that he would announce his resignation during a televised national address on Sunday night, pitching the country into a second week of political crisis after a military takeover.

Lawmakers from his ruling Zanu-PF party said that they would take the first steps necessary to push Mr Mugabe from office on Tuesday.

"We want to get rid of this animal called Mugabe, he must go. We have the numbers, the opposition is also going to support us," said party MP Vongai Mupereri.

"We have got a clear position, we are going to impeach - the man has to go," said another government MP, MacKenzie Ncube, speaking after a meeting of ruling party lawmakers.

Once a simple majority of parliamentarians vote for impeachment, legislators will form an investigative committee that will report back to both houses of parliament. Each house must then vote by a two-thirds majority for the president to be stripped of office.

Mr Mugabe's speech capped an extraordinary weekend that saw Zimbabweans celebrate while also venting their anger in ways that would have been brutally repressed just a week ago.

But their joy quickly turned to despair as Mr Mugabe brushed aside the turmoil, blithely declaring on Sunday that he would chair a top-level meeting of the party that had just disavowed him.

On Monday, his political secretary announced that Mr Mugabe had called a meeting of his cabinet on Tuesday.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, called Mr Mugabe's speech a "complete reversal of the people's expectations".

"The so-called negotiation with the army did not produce the dignified exit that the nation was expecting."

Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the influential war veterans' association, called for less restrained protests than those staged at the weekend in an effort to dislodge Mr Mugabe.

"He's lost his marbles," he said.

Though Mr Mugabe has struggled with public speaking in recent years, the wily statesman appeared alert and attentive as he delivered his address.

The crisis erupted on November 13 after a factional squabble over the presidential succession erupted into the open.

Mr Mugabe's wife Grace, 52, secured prime position to succeed him when 75-year-old vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is close to the military leadership, was fired.

After Mr Mnangagwa fled abroad, the army took over the country and placed Mugabe under house arrest.

The army insists it has not carried out a coup, but rather a police action to arrest allegedly corrupt supporters of the highly ambitious first lady.

When Mr Mugabe refused to step down following behind-the-scenes talks, the generals unleashed people power.

In scenes reminiscent of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, crowds packed the cities on Saturday, waving flags and chanting for Mr Mugabe to resign.

On Sunday Zanu-PF dismissed him as its leader and demanded he resign as head of state, naming Mr Mnangagwa as the new party chief.

Mr Mugabe seemed unfazed in his speech and made no reference to the hostile chorus calling for him to go, describing last week's dramatic military intervention as "no threat" to his rule.

Chris Vandome, an analyst at the Chatham House think tank, warned that further delays heightened the risk of disorder.

"They will start impeaching him, that is certainly the will of the military, but it's increasingly now the will of the people," he said.

"The longer this goes on for, the more the likelihood of violence increases."

Some sources suggest Mr Mugabe has been battling to delay his exit in order to secure a deal that would guarantee future protection for him and his family.

Mr Mugabe was a key figure in the war for independence and took office as prime minister in 1980, riding a wave of goodwill.

But his reputation was swiftly tarnished by his authoritarian instincts, rights abuses and economic ineptitude.

Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, urged "everyone to refrain from violence".

"What does appear clear is that Mugabe has lost the support of the people and of his party," British prime minister Theresa May's spokesman said.

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Read more:

Mugabe makes first public appearance since military takeover

Editorial: Mugabe is finished but the wounds remain

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