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Thousands March Through Zimbabwe's Capital To Urge Mugabe To Step Down

An army soldier stands guard as protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stand down, gather on the road leading to State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017.

Tens of thousands of euphoric Zimbabweans marched through the country's capital on Saturday to celebrate what may be the near end of President Robert Mugabe's reign.

Mugabe, one of Africa's last living independence leaders, had been in power for nearly four decades, until this week when the military ousted him in what it is describing as a "bloodless correction."

Journalist Jeffrey Barbee tells Weekend Edition the mood on the streets of Harare was "jubilant, not a rock to be thrown ... peaceful but excited."

"People are really excited to see the end of Mugabe," he says.

Crowds of exuberant demonstrators marched toward Mugabe's residence in an act of defiance against his abuse of power, which had been going on for decades. Similar protests took place in other parts of the country and abroad.

Earlier this week, the military seized control in response to a political power struggle over who would rule Zimbabwe after Mugabe, who has led the former British colony since it gained independence in 1980. The 93-year-old president is refusing to step down, saying he should be allowed to finish his term before elections next year.

Reuters reports that Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party is expected to meet on Sunday to devise a path torward to his impeachment and reinstate his recently dismissed vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The party will also seek to oust Mugabe's preferred successor, his wife, Grace.

Mugabe had previously pledged to run for re-election in 2018, but his health began to decline, setting off chaos inside his government to determine his successor.

As NPR's Eyder Peralta reported, a sharp divide formed within the ruling party with Grace Mugabe, who is significantly younger than her husband, leading a new guard of party members, while Mnangagwa – a fixture in Mugabe's government for decades – led older members.

Mugabe fired Mnangagwa earlier this month in an attempt to pave the way for his wife to take his place, which prompted the military takeover.

The military insisted the move was not a coup, but an effort to target the people in Mugabe's corner "who are committing crimes." Mugabe has been under house arrest since the military takeover, even as several senior government officials have been detained by the army, according to the BBC.

In his first public appearance since the takeover, Mugabe attended a university graduation ceremony in Harare to deliver a commencement address on Friday. But after giving his speech, he appeared to fall asleep during the remainder of the ceremony.

Mugabe's appearance was likely a failed attempt to convince Zimbabweans he maintained firm control of the country, Barbee says.

"He was trying to sort of enforce the fact that he was still in charge here ... and yet he fell asleep at that commencement," Barbee tells NPR. "And I think that that's a good parable to look at the end of his rule. There was this sort of man sleeping at the helm of a country ready to move on."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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