The national army has taken control in Zimbabwe but said President Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, was safe.
After seizing state TV, an army spokesman announced it was targeting people close to Mr. Mugabe who had caused “social and economic suffering”.
The move came after Mr. Mugabe sacked his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in favour of his wife, Grace.
Heavy gun and artillery fire could be heard in northern parts of the capital Harare early on Wednesday.
A statement read out by a general on-air denied it was a coup. There was no immediate word from the president himself.
Messages appeared on a Twitter account purportedly run by the ruling Zanu-PF party saying he had been detained. But there has been no confirmation by the army.
This military action is the old guard reasserting its authority. Mr Mugabe was the political leader of the guerrilla war so the army always professed loyalty to him until he explicitly came out in favour of his wife.
President Robert Mugabe is still in charge – but the ruling party, which has been divided over who should succeed the 93-year-old leader, was being “realigned” as a result of the army’s action.
Today’s actions were sparked by a “purge” of officials in Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, the military has said.
The most powerful victim of these so-called purges was Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was, until just over a week ago, the country’s vice-president.
His removal cleared the way for Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace to become his new deputy – and the most likely person to succeed him if and when he decides to step down.
She is now believed to being held, along with her husband, at their home in the capital, Harare.
‘Mnangagwa behind military action’
Eddie Cross, an MP for the main Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, has told the BBC’s Newsday programme that he believes the move by the military is being masterminded by former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sacked last week:
He was chairman of the Joint Operations Command, which is a military structure here that’s been in existence since independence.
Nothing like this could have happened without him. He’s a brilliant operator and organiser. I think very shortly we will hear that Mr Mugabe has retired from political life and he’s appointed Emmerson Mnangagwa as his successor.”
Meanwhile, South African President Jacob Zuma says he is watching the events unfolding in neighbouring Zimbabwe with “great concern”.
An official statement released by Mr Zuma’s office called on the armed forces “to resolve the political impasse amicably”.
In August, South Africa found itself drawn into its own fight involving the Mugabe family, when Grace Mugabe allegedly assaulted a model in a Johannesburg hotel room.
Mrs. Mugabe was not prosecuted after Mr. Zuma’s government gave her diplomatic immunity.
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