After taking over the state broadcaster and amid a night of unrest, Zimbabwe's army early Wednesday sought to reassure the country that "this is not a military takeover" and that although President Robert Mugabe was safe and sound, the military was targeting "criminals around him.”
"As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy," the army spokesman said, calling on churches to pray for the country.
The army took control of the state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation late Tuesday and an army spokesman made the statement on air early Wednesday.
Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in Zimbabwe's capital and military vehicles were seen in the streets after the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor. The ruling party accused the commander of "treasonable conduct."
The US Embassy closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing "the ongoing political uncertainty through the night." The British embassy issued a similar warning, citing "reports of unusual military activity."
It was not clear where Mugabe and his wife were early Wednesday. "Their security is guaranteed," the army statement said. The president reportedly attended a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday.
"We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover," the army statement said. "We are only targeting criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice."
South Africa on Wednesday urged Zimbabwe to resist any "unconstitutional changes" of government.
President Jacob Zuma "has expressed hope that developments in Zimbabwe would not lead to unconstitutional changes of government," said a statement released in Pretoria.
Zuma appealed for "the country to resolve the political impasse amicably and has urged the Zimbabwean defense force to ensure ... the maintenance of peace," it added.
South Africa is an influential neighbour of Zimbabwe, with millions of Zimbabweans living in the country to seek work and flee Mugabe's regime.
Zuma, in his capacity as Chair of the Southern African Development Community, is sending Special Envoys to Zimbabwe," the South African government said in a statement.