Speaking while under house arrest, Zimbabwe’s embattled President Robert Mugabe has shocked the nation by making no mention of resignation despite a military takeover and a deadline set by his own party for him to cede power.
The 93-year old president delivered a 20-minute address Sunday on live television, hours after his Zanu-PF Party sacked him and urged the leader to step down by noon (1000 GMT) on Monday or face impeachment.
Zimbabweans, who widely expected Mugabe to announce his resignation in the address, had gathered in public places across the capital, Harare, to watch the speech.
However, much to their disbelief, Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly four decades, offered no concessions to his opponents, and even pledged to preside over a special Zanu-PF congress scheduled for next month.
The president acknowledged criticism from Zanu-PF, the military and public, but said the events of last week were not “a challenge to my authority as head of state and government.”
“Whatever the pros and cons of how they [the army] went about their operation, I, as commander-in-chief, do acknowledge their concerns,” he said.
The long-running president stressed the need to return normality to the African state, but made no mention of demands from the public and from his own party, to resign as president.
Angered by the speech, Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the influential war veterans’ association, said plans to impeach Mugabe in parliament would now go ahead, and that there would be mass protests on Wednesday.
“That speech has nothing to do with realities,” he said, calling on people to go back to the streets.
As the ZANU-PF party’s deadline passed, CNN reported that Mugabe had agreed to terms that were negotiated with the army generals for his exit from power.
Citing sources familiar with the negotiations, CNN said a resignation letter has now been drafted.
Under the key terms of the deal, Mugabe and his wife would be granted full immunity.
Both houses of Zimbabwe’s parliament are due to convene on Tuesday for a debate over the impeachment bid, which would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
The political crisis began in the South African country in mid-November after Mugabe sacked his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has close ties to the military.
The sudden move angered army commanders and led to the military takeover last week.
The commanders considered Mugabe’s sudden decision as an attempt to position his wife, Grace Mugabe, as his successor. She has not been seen since the takeover.
The army described the takeover as “bloodless transition,” and insisted that it had no intention of taking permanent control of government. It said the developments were merely an operation to root out “criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes.”
Mnangagwa has been reinstated and elected as interim leader of the Zanu-PF in place of Mugabe. He is widely expected to take over from him as president.