Zimbabwe’s state-run media have published photos of Robert Mugabe meeting the general who led an army takeover two days ago, as the veteran autocrat resisted pressure to step down on Thursday and the army faced growing calls to outline its plans for a new government.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, looked confident and healthy in the images, taken during a meeting at the president’s state offices and residence in the capital, Harare, on Thursday afternoon. The defence minister and two South African envoys also appeared in the pictures.
One picture showed Mugabe, 93, and General Constantino Chiwenga smiling as they shook hands. No details of the conversations held during the meeting were released.
Mugabe has been confined by the army to his personal residence in Harare’s upscale neighbourhood of Borrowdale since Tuesday night, when troops moved to seize the state TV channel’s studios and other important sites.
Sources close to the military said Mugabe had described the takeover as illegal and was resisting pressure to resign.
He is thought to have rejected efforts by a Catholic priest – a long-term friend of his – to facilitate the mediation efforts.
The biggest regional power, South Africa, appears to have backed the army. South African envoys are in Harare to help with negotiations to form a new government and decide the terms of Mugabe’s resignation. South Africa called an emergency meeting of the Southern African Development Community regional bloc, which got underway in Botswana.
Though the military move has been cautiously welcomed by many Zimbabweans and the streets were once again quiet on Thursday, there are growing public demands for the senior military officers who led the takeover to lay out their plans.
The army declared on national television in the early hours of Wednesday morning that it had temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around Mugabe, resolving a battle to succeed the president that had pitted his wife, Grace, against the former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening from South Africa, where he fled last week after being stripped of his office by the president in an apparent attempt to clear Grace Mugabe’s path to power.
Opposition officials told the Guardian they believed Mugabe would resign on Friday, allowing Mnangagwa to be appointed president, with Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, serving as prime minister in a transitional government that would have a three- to five-year term. The outgoing president and his family would be offered protection in his retirement, though Grace Mugabe is expected to leave Zimbabwe.
Members of the first lady’s G40 faction, who were detained during the military takeover, would be prosecuted in accordance with the law, the officials said.