Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, refused to resign during a crunch meeting Thursday with military generals who have seized control of the country.
Although he lapsed into sleep during the talks, according to images published by Herald newspaper, he was adamant he will not quit power voluntarily.
The talks in Harare came after tumultuous days in which soldiers blockaded key roads, took over state TV and put the veteran leader under house arrest.
“They met today. He is refusing to step down. I think he is trying to buy time,” said a source close to the army leadership who declined to be named.
Mugabe’s motorcade took him from his private residence to State House for the talks which included envoys from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc. A Catholic priest was also present for the gathering, according to the state-run Herald news site.
Government TV showed Mugabe dressed in a navy blue blazer and grey trousers standing alongside army chief General Constantino Chiwenga who smiled and was dressed in camouflage military fatigues.
The broadcast said talks were ongoing. It also said that a graduation ceremony at a university where Mugabe is the chancellor would proceed as planned on Friday morning.
Mugabe has previously taken a hands-on role in the capping of graduates himself and if he were to attend in person it would suggest that his house arrest had been relaxed.
Zimbabwe was left stunned at the military intervention against Mugabe, 93, who has ruled the country since independence from British rule in 1980.
Despite Mugabe’s refusal to resign, attention has shifted to the prominent figures who could play a role in any transitional government.
Morgan Tsvangirai, a former prime minister and long-time opponent of Mugabe, told journalists in Harare that Mugabe must resign “in the interest of the people”.
He added that “a transitional mechanism” would be needed to ensure stability.
Tendai Biti, an internationally-respected figure who served as finance minister during the coalition government after the 2008 elections, called it “a very delicate time for Zimbabwe”.
“A way has to be worked out to maintain stability. That restoration requires a roadmap and to address the grievances that have led to this situation,” he said.
Mugabe’s advanced age, poor health and listless public performances fuelled a bitter succession battle between his wife Grace and former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Mugabe sacked last week.
Mnangagwa, 75, was previously one of Mugabe’s most loyal lieutenants, having worked alongside him for decades.
But he fled to South Africa following his dismissal and published a scathing five-page rebuke of Mugabe’s leadership and Grace’s presidential ambitions.
The military generals were strongly opposed to Grace Mugabe’s rise, while Mnangagwa has maintained close ties to the army and could emerge as the next president.
“People want the constitution to be upheld. The talks should look at how to deal with the Mugabe issue in a progressive manner,” political analyst Earnest Mudzengi told AFP.