Pressure grows on Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to step down

Former supporters of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe have demanded that he resign after nearly four decades in power.

In an extraordinary evening broadcast, state broadcaster ZBC - for decades, a mouthpiece for the Mugabe government - reported on the mounting campaign for his resignation.

Mugabe had earlier emerged for the first time from military-imposed house arrest, presiding at a university graduation ceremony.

Clad in a blue gown, the 93-year-old joined academics on a red carpet and sat in a high-backed chair in front of several thousand students and guests, a routine he has conducted for many years as the official chancellor of Zimbabwe's universities.

This time, however, the spectacle was jarring because the authority of the world's oldest head of state, once seen as impregnable, is evaporating daily.

That Mugabe was permitted to go to the Zimbabwe Open University event possibly reflected a degree of respect by the military for the president, a former rebel leader who took power after independence from white minority rule in 1980.

The armed forces are in a delicate position, sending tanks and troops into Harare's streets this week to effectively end the Mugabe era, while refraining from more heavy-handed measures that would heighten accusations that they staged a coup and violated the constitution.

Meanwhile, the ruling Zanu-PF party signalled impatience with Mugabe amid negotiations on his exit.

Party branches passed no-confidence votes in all 10 Zimbabwean provinces, and the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper said all had called for the resignation of Mugabe and his wife. They are seeking a special meeting within two days of the party's Central Committee.

Demonstrations were called for Saturday in Harare to support the military's move against Mugabe, who drew applause from the graduating students on the outskirts of the capital only when he made brief, perfunctory remarks, usually to bestow degrees on delighted graduates.

The military said it supports plans for a march, as long as the demonstration is orderly and peaceful.

Discontent with Mugabe has been growing because of the dire state of the economy, concerns about corruption and mismanagement, a sense that he is no longer physically capable of leading the country due to advanced age and the ambitions of his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him.

The military stepped into the factional battles of the ruling party on Wednesday after the firing of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is close to the armed forces and was heavily criticised by both Mugabes.

Mr Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe after his dismissal, will return only after the process to remove Mugabe is complete, high-level supporters said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for a return to civilian rule in Zimbabwe, urged any new leader to respect democracy and human rights, and said the country has a chance to put itself on a "new path".

China said it hopes Zimbabwe's political situation can be resolved "under the legal framework" and that stability can be restored.

Questions have been raised about China's possible role in Zimbabwe's affairs because Zimbabwe's army commander was in Beijing last week. China said the visit by General Constantino Chiwenga was a "normal military exchange".

As Mugabe tries to hang on in negotiations over his departure from office, he has asked for "a few more days, a few more months", the chairman of the influential war veterans' association in Zimbabwe told reporters.

Chris Mutsvangwa, a Mnangagwa ally, said there is little tolerance for Mugabe to extend his presidency.

Several ruling party figures linked to Grace Mugabe - Jonathan Moyo, the higher education minister; Saviour Kasukuwere, the local government minister; and Ignatious Chombo, the finance minister - were detained during military operations, according to Mr Mutsvangwa.

Mr Moyo was not at the graduation ceremony, even though he had been scheduled to attend.

The military said "significant progress has been made in their operation to weed out criminals around President Mugabe," saying they had committed "crimes that were causing social and economic suffering in Zimbabwe".

AP


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