Mugabe resigns under military pressure after 37 years as Zimbabwe's leader

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Robert Mugabe resigned Tuesday as Zimbabwe’s president, submitting a letter to parliament that ended his 37-year rule and triggered massive celebrations in the streets of the capital.

The parliament erupted in cheers when its speaker, Jacob Mudenda, interrupted impeachment proceedings against the 93-year-old president to read Mugabe’s resignation to lawmakers.

“I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe ... hereby formally tender my resignation ... with immediate effect,” Mudenda said as he read the letter.

It was an extraordinary end for the world’s oldest head of state after decades of increasingly repressive and erratic rule. Mugabe’s departure marked the end of a tumultuous reign that spanned the country’s independence through its economic collapse.

In the end, he was a victim of his own party. After years of purging members of his inner circle, Mugabe had alienated the leaders of Zimbabwe’s military, who detained him and seized control of the country’s government.

The resignation was announced after Mugabe’s former vice president called for him to heed the “clarion call” to step aside and parliament opening impeachment proceedings.

The demand by the influential former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, marked his first public statement since the military’s takeover last week that was widely expected to pave the way for Mnangagwa to replace Mugabe.

But Mugabe remained defiant for days and the military gave mixed signals about its next move — further clouding an already confusing tumble of events since the military intervened last week against the 93-year-old president.

On Monday, Zimbabwe’s military appeared to open the door for Mugabe to somehow stay in power during a transition period.

During the impeachment debate, some Parliament members cheered as the list of accusations was read, including claims that Mugabe attempted to “usurp constitutional” control by seeking to make his wife, Grace Mugabe, his successor.

An alliance between the military and Mnangagwa was at the core of a plan to replace Mugabe, who has ruled since the country became independent from Britain in 1980.

His removal could not come soon enough for Mugabe’s critics, who have suddenly felt emboldened to speak out.

Many Zimbabweans became increasingly desperate for a change in power after years of economic mismanagement and corruption that have left the once-envied nation with deepening poverty and skyrocketing inflation.

Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, chief of Zimbabwe’s armed forces, said Monday the military has held “further consultations with the president to agree on a road map” for the country. Mnangagwa’s statement, however, diverged quite a bit from such a diplomatic approach.

He said the people of Zimbabwe had already expressed their “insatiable desire” for Mugabe to resign and backed parliament’s plan to impeach the president if he declined to step down.

Mnangagwa’s statement quickly echoed across the broad coalition of groups hoping to unseat Mugabe. People arrived at Mugabe’s residence and in front of parliament to demand his ejection.

“We will continue to fight until comrade Mugabe is out of power,” said Douglas Mahiya, a spokesman for the influential National Liberation War Veterans Association.

Mugabe’s dismissal of Mnangagwa earlier this month triggered the military intervention last Tuesday. But on Sunday night, in what was expected to be a publicly televised resignation, the world’s oldest head of state instead delivered a meandering speech in which he made it clear that he had no intention of leaving the presidency.

As Mugabe’s rule grew more erratic and repressive over the years — and as the economy collapsed — Zimbabweans have spoken openly about when and how the “old man” would go. The past week seemed to bring that outcome closer than ever.

Mnangagwa’s return would appease a small but powerful segment of the ruling party. He has been a core member of ZANU-PF for decades and has strong connections to the security forces. But many Zimbabweans consider him corrupt and oppressive for having helped insulate Mugabe’s regime for years before his abrupt falling-out with the president.

Both military and civilian opponents of Mugabe appear eager to imbue any successor with an air of legitimacy that would be accepted by the international community. In its bylaws, a regional bloc of southern African nations includes strong language against coups.

Mugabe has taken the law into his own hands for much of his rule, encouraging his government to seize land belonging to white farmers by force and ordering the detention of political opponents. This month, Martha O’Donovan, a 25-year-old American woman, was arrested in connection with subversion after she allegedly insulted Mugabe on Twitter. Two weeks ago, four people were detained for booing the president’s wife at a rally.

But when Mugabe’s government finally turned against him, it declined to use the same brute force or extrajudicial power he has employed for years.

Aside from wanting to avoid allegations of coup-plotting, Zimbabwe’s military may have been showing deference to the only President Zimbabwe has ever had and a hero of the country’s liberation struggle.

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