Harare, Nov 17 (IANS) Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe attended a university graduation ceremony on the outskirts of Harare on Friday in his first public appearance since a takeover by the military two days ago had led to his seeming house arrest.
The veteran leader arrived at the Harare Open University in a blue-and-yellow gown accompanied by his security detail. He walked up a red carpet and joined the crowd in singing the national anthem, then opened the graduation ceremony.
Mugabe’s appearance followed an Army statement on Friday describing “significant progress” in its operation to apprehend “criminals” around the President, the BBC reported.
The Army said it was “engaging” with Mugabe and would advise the public on the outcome of talks “as soon as possible”. The statement appeared to have been aimed at quelling growing concerns that the military takeover could descend swiftly into chaos.
Neither the 93-year-old President’s wife Grace Mugabe nor Education Minister Jonathan Moyo was present at the graduation ceremony. Moyo is believed to be among those detained.
Grace Mugabe has not been seen since the takeover. She was reportedly in her husband’s Harare residence when he was detained.
The wife of the general who detained Mugabe was among those upon whom the President conferred a degree. Mugabe has so far resisted pressure to resign and called the Army’s intervention “illegal”.
Chris Mutsvangwa, the leader of Zimbabwe’s influential war veterans, said Mugabe would not be allowed to remain in power. He said the military had targeted the “rot that was led by Grace Mugabe and her husband”, the Guardian reported.
A march of members and associations on Saturday is being organised by leaders from the ruling Zanu-PF party to call for Mugabe to go.
Since taking power, the military arrested about a dozen senior officials and leading members of the G40, a faction of Zanu-PF loyal to the first lady.
The takeover is thought to have been prompted in part by fears among the military and its allies within the ruling party of an imminent purge of rivals of the President’s wife, which would allow her to exercise greater power.
Muage appeared in photos published in the local media on Thursday, speaking with Army leader Commander General Constantino Chiwenga at Zimbabwe’s State House.
Leaders of the party were expected to meet later in the day to draft a resolution to dismiss Mugabe at the weekend and lay the ground for his impeachment next week if he refuses to stand down, according to reports.
Prior to Friday’s appearance, Mugabe had been confined to his personal residence in the capital since Wednesday night when troops seized the state TV channel’s studios and other important sites.
South African envoys are in Harare to help with negotiations and decide the terms of Mugabe’s resignation. South Africa called an emergency meeting of the Southern African Development Community regional bloc in Botswana.
The military move was cautiously welcomed by many Zimbabweans and the streets remained quiet, but there are growing public demands for those who led the takeover to lay out their plans.
A succession battle has pitted Grace Mugabe against former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, where he fled last week after being stripped of his office by Mugabe in an apparent attempt to clear his wife’s path to power.
Opposition officials told the Guardian they believed a deal would eventually allow Mnangagwa to be appointed President, with Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), serving as Prime Minister in a transitional government.
Mugabe and his family would be offered protection in his retirement, though Grace Mugabe was expected to leave Zimbabwe. Detained G40 members would be prosecuted, the officials said.
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