The Zimbabwean media seized control of the state broadcasting station and took President Robert Mugabe, 93, into custody on Wednesday morning, according to numerous international media reports.

General S.B. Moyo appeared on national television, in uniform, and insisted: “We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government.”

However, the military patrolled the streets of the capital city, Harare, and ordered troops to barracks, according to South African news website Mugabe and his family were reportedly under house arrest.

Mugabe has held power since winning the country’s first democratic elections in 1980. He co-opted his main opposition, and allegedly carried out bloody reprisals against members of the Ndebele ethnic minority in the mid-1980s (Mugabe is a member of the Shona majority).

In 2000, Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum that would have expanded his powers. In response, he began a campaign of land seizures targeted at white farmers. Many fled, and some were killed, while the farmland was largely redistributed to Mugabe’s cronies rather than the rural poor. The country, which had once exported grain, faced food shortages. At the same time, Mugabe cracked down on the predominantly black political opposition, led by Morgan Tsvangirai’s trade union-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The country held several subsequent elections that were reported to have been rigged in favor of Mugabe and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF). Neighboring South Africa declined to intervene, as President Thabo Mbeki and his ruling African National Congress (ANC) felt an ideological kinship with ZANU-PF, as well as sympathy for his land reform policies.

Finally, however, South Africa helped broker a short-lived power-sharing relationship that restored some stability while leaving Mugabe in power.

On Wednesday, the military claimed that it was not harming Mugabe, but merely targeting “criminals around” him. It urged citizens to continue to exercise their rights, and vowed a return to “normalcy” in the near future.

The immediate trigger for the apparent coup was Mugabe’s decision last week to fire Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, 74, who had the support of the military and was a rival to Mugabe’s wife and chosen successor, Grace, 52.

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