World

Mugabe given less than a day to quit

Zimbabwe's ruling party fires leader and expels his wife after de facto coup

HARARE Zimbabwe's ruling party fired Mr Robert Mugabe as its leader yesterday and gave the 93-year-old less than 24 hours to quit as head of state or face impeachment, an attempt to force a peaceful end to his 37 years in power after a de facto coup.

Mr Mugabe, the only leader the southern African nation has known since independence from Britain in 1980, was replaced by Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa, the deputy he sacked this month in a move that triggered last Tuesday's intervention by the army.

In scenes unthinkable just a week ago, the announcement to seal the fate of Mr Mugabe was met by cheers from the 200 delegates packed into ruling party Zanu-PF's Harare headquarters. His support has crumbled since the army seized power.

Mr Mugabe was given until noon (6pm Singapore time) today to resign or face impeachment, an ignominious end to the career of the "Grand Old Man" of African politics who was once feted across the continent as an anti-colonial liberation hero.

Even in the West, he was renowned in his early years as the "Thinking Man's Guerrilla", an ironic nickname for a man who would later proudly declare he held a "degree in violence".

As the vote was announced, war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who has spearheaded an 18-month campaign to remove a man he openly described as a "dictator", shouted: "The President is gone. Long live the new President."

EXPELLED

Mr Mugabe's 52-year-old wife, Grace, who had harboured ambitions of succeeding her husband, was also expelled from the party, along with at least three cabinet ministers who had formed the backbone of her "G40" political faction.

Speaking before the meeting, Mr Mutsvangwa said Mr Mugabe was running out of time to negotiate his departure and should leave the country while he could.

If Mr Mugabe refused to go, "we will bring back the crowds and they will do their business", Mr Mutsvangwa told reporters.

Mr Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as "The Crocodile," is expected to head an interim post-Mugabe unity government that will focus on rebuilding ties with the outside world and stabilising an economy in free fall.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Harare, singing in an outpouring of elation at Mr Mugabe's expected overthrow.

Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, Mr Mugabe's nephew, Mr Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters that Mr Mugabe and his wife were "ready to die for what is correct" rather than step down in order to legitimise what he described as a coup.

Despite the euphoria, some Mugabe opponents are uneasy about the role played by the military, and fear Zimbabwe might be swapping one army-backed autocrat for another, rather than allowing the people to choose their next leader.

The US, a longtime Mugabe critic, said it is looking forward to a new era in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighbouring Botswana said Mr Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once. - REUTERS

WORLD