Military vehicles have been seen heading towards the Zimbabwean capital Harare after a military chief warned the army could “step in” amid a political row.
On Monday, the head of the armed forces General Constantino Chiwenga demanded an end to a purge in the ruling ZANU-PF party after the sacking of the country’s vice president Emmerson Mnangangwa.
General Chiwenga said his forces may intervene if the removal from influential positions of key figures in Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation wars goes on.
Mr Mnangagwa, 75, a veteran of the liberation wars, had been viewed as a probable successor to 93-year-old Robert Mugabe before the president fired him on 6 November.
His sacking appeared to pave the way for Mr Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.
Mr Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence.
Reuters, AFP and AP witnesses said they saw several military vehicles, thought to be armoured personnel carriers, heading along roads towards the capital.
Reuters said another two military vehicles had been seen parked beside the road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20 miles from the capital and Sky News has obtained pictures said to show caterpillar-track armed vehicles between Norton and Harare.
It was not immediately clear why the vehicles were on the move, with analysts saying the vehicles may have been on routine manoeuvres.
Soldiers were seen at the scene, but they refused to talk to journalists.
A fruit seller near the shopping centre in Westgate, about six miles (10km) from central Harare, told AFP: “I saw a long convoy of military vehicles… about an hour ago. I don’t know where they were heading,”
On Monday, General Chiwenga said: “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.
“The current purging … targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith,” he said.
Mrs Mugabe, 52, has a strong following in the powerful youth wing of ZANU-PF.
Her rise has been seen as a challenge to the dominance of the independence-era war veterans, who previously held privileged positions in the ruling party under Mr Mugabe.
The veterans, some of who took part in the civil war in the former British colony, have increasingly been prevented from holding senior government and party roles in recent years.
More than 100 senior officials said to have backed Mr Mnangagwa have been listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Grace Mugabe.
Neither the president nor his wife have yet responded to General Chiwenga’s remarks, but earlier on Tuesday the youth wing of ZANU-PF accused him of subverting the constitution.
Kudzai Chipanga, who leads the youth league, said: “We will not hold out hands to allow a creature of the constitution to subvert the very constitution which establishes it.”