The military has taken control of Zimbabwe but insists that 93-year-old President Mugabe is safe and well.
The army moved tanks and other military vehicles into positions around the capital Harare overnight and troops stormed state television studios on Wednesday morning.
Witnesses reported hearing heavy gun and artillery fire in northern parts of Harare, where many top Zimbabwean officials have homes.
In a televised broadcast, an army spokesman said the military had not launched a coup but were targeting those close to the president that had inflicted “social and economic hardship” on the population in recent years.
The move came after Mugabe dismissed vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa earlier this month, leaving his 52-year-old wife, Grace, as the person most likely to succeed her husband.
On Monday, Zimbabwe’s army chief General Constantino Chiwenga called on those responsible for “purging” the country’s ruling Zanu-PF party to stop, or warned military would intervene. He said:
“The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,” he told those gathered for the news conference.
“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.”
His warning was met with criticism from the ruling Zanu-PF party, with spokesman Simon Khaya-Moyo calling his threat “treasonable conduct…meant to incite insurrection and violent challenge to the Constitutional Order”.