Zimbabwe lawmakers begin historic debate on Mugabe impeachment

Zimbabwe lawmakers begin historic debate on Mugabe impeachment

Robert Mugabe resigned as Zimbabwe's president on Tuesday, shortly after parliament began an impeachment process to end his almost four decades of rule. A number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda's Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.

But hours later, Mugabe stunned Zimbabweans in a rambling late night Sunday television address by avoiding any mention of resignation, pledging instead to preside over a party congress next month.

Moments after the address, war veterans' leader Chris Mutsvangwa, called for a wave of protests if Mugabe refused to go.

In scenes redolent of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, crowds thronged the cities, waving national flags and chanting for Mugabe to resign.

Now under house arrest after the army took over government, Mugabe is still the state president, pending possible impeachment by parliament.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was dumbstruck. "He's playing a game".

The speaker read a letter reportedly from Mugabe, in which he said he was resigning immediately and voluntarily in an effort to ensure a "smooth transfer of power", according to the Associated Press.

Mugabe must "accept the will of the people" and resign, said the recently ousted vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is viewed by many as Mugabe's likely successor.

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The army insists it has not carried out a coup, but rather an operation to arrest allegedly corrupt supporters around the Mugabe family.

Mpofu, however, said his wife Grace and her associates - higher education minister Jonathan Moyo, finance minister Chombo and local government minister Kasukuwere - had taken advantage of Mugabe's frailty.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Harare to celebrate Mugabe's expected downfall and hail a new era for their country. Inflation reached 500 billion percent in 2008.

"I believe it will be relatively easy to get the initial simple majority in parliament to start the impeachment process", a senior Zimbabwe lawyer said, adding that if all opposition and independent MPs joined forces with disaffected Zanu-PF MPs it "may also be possible for them to achieve the two-thirds majority to remove the president from office". Behind the euphoria, however, some Zimbabweans have misgivings.

The pendulum swung further against the president on Sunday, when ZANU-PF dismissed him as its leader and demanded he resign as head of state, naming Mnangagwa as the new party chief.

Sources close to the negotiations said the army had agreed not to prosecute Mugabe for any crimes committed during his tenure.

However, Mnangagwa's history as state security chief during the so-called Gukurahundi crackdown, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, suggested that quick, sweeping change was unlikely.

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