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Zimbabwe military deny takeover, says President Robert Mugabe safe

By Farai Mutsaka/The Associated Press/Nov. 14, 2017


HARARE, Zimbabwe - In an extraordinary statement after long hours of unrest, Zimbabwe‘s army early Wednesday sought to reassure the country that “this is not a military takeover” and that while President Robert Mugabewas safe and sound, the military was targeting “criminals around him” who have sent the nation spinning into economic despair.

“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” the army spokesman said, calling on churches to pray for the country.

Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in Zimbabwe’s capital and military vehicles were seen in the streets after the army commander had threatened to “step in” to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe’s possible successor. The ruling party accused the commander of “treasonable conduct.”

The U.S. Embassy closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.” The British embassy issued a similar warning, citing “reports of unusual military activity.”

For the first time, this southern African nation is seeing an open rift between the military and Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state who has ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980. The military has been a key pillar of his power.

It was not clear where Mugabe and his wife were early Wednesday. “Their security is guaranteed,” the army statement said. The president reportedly attended a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” the army statement said. “We are only targeting criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”

Overnight, The Associated Press saw armed soldiers assaulting passers-by in Harare, as well as soldiers loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles. The explosions could be heard near the University of Zimbabwe campus. The developments came several hours after the AP saw three armoured personnel carriers in a convoy heading toward an army barracks just outside the capital.

Mugabe last week fired Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power, including through witchcraft. Mnangagwa, who enjoyed the military’s backing and once was seen as a potential president, fled the country and said he had been threatened. Over 100 senior officials allegedly supporting him have been listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Mugabe’s wife, Grace.

The first lady appeared to be positioned to replace Mnangagwa as one of the country’s two vice-presidents at a special conference of the ruling party in December, leading many in Zimbabwe to suspect that she could succeed her husband. Grace Mugabe is unpopular with some Zimbabweans because of lavish spending as many struggle, and four people accused of booing her at a recent rally were arrested.

On Monday, army commander Constantino Chiwenga issued an unprecedented statement saying purges against senior ruling ZANU-PF party officials, many of whom like Mnangagwa fought for liberation, should end “forthwith.”

“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” the army commander said. The state-run broadcaster did not report on his statement.

Showing a generational divide, the ruling party’s youth league, aligned with the 52-year-old first lady, on Tuesday criticized the army commander’s comments, saying youth were “ready to die for Mugabe.”

On Tuesday night the ruling party issued a statement accusing the army commander of “treasonable conduct,” saying his comments were “clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability” and were “meant to incite insurrection.”

Frustration has been growing in once-prosperous Zimbabwe as the economy collapses under Mugabe. The country was shaken last year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade, and a once-loyal war veterans association turned on the president, calling him “dictatorial” and blaming him for the economic crisis.

“Mnangagwa was held out by many as the best hope within ZANU-PF for piloting an economic recovery,” analyst Piers Pigou with the International Crisis Group wrote Tuesday.

Now, “Mugabe will have to employ all his guile if he intends to ensure continued accommodation with the armed forces.”

Mugabe in the past has warned military commanders from interfering in succession politics. “Politics shall always lead the gun, and not the gun politics. Otherwise it will be a coup,” he told supporters in July.

© 2017 The Canadian Press


And in Canada

Trudeau sends a message, or three, on Asian summit tour
Trudeau's insistence on 'progressive' Trans-Pacific Partnership deal sets tone for NAFTA talks - and beyond

By Chris Hall/CBC News/Nov 14, 201


Justin Trudeau received a lot of negative publicity in the foreign media and to a lesser extent here at home after refusing to sign an agreement in principle for a new trade deal with 10 other Pacific Rim nations on Friday.

Whether he "sabotaged" the deal, as one Australian newspaper put it, or "screwed" the other leaders who waited for him on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam, the prime minister suffered a hit to his popularity on the world stage, something that really hasn't happened since he took office two years ago.

Some observers are warning Trudeau may have made it more difficult for Canada to gain a desired foothold in two other organizations in the region: ASEAN, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the East Asia Summit, a key forum for discussing security issues in the region. He attended both this weekend as an observer. It was the first time a Canadian leader had been invited.

But whatever price he paid or will pay, Canadian officials insist the benefits far outweigh it.

They say Trudeau reinforced his message that Canada will not succumb to pressure and sign a trade deal he doesn't believe is in the best interests of Canada.

Japan, Australia and Singapore, in particular, wanted to press ahead, even with few changes to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership that included concessions they had all made in order to get the U.S. on board before President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal.

Canada's position is that the value of increasing trade can't take precedence over the progressive values Trudeau wants enshrined, not just by inserting clauses to protect the environment and promote labour and Indigenous rights, but in changing the name of the pact itself to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Canada also wanted more protections for culture and to suspend intellectual property provisions that critics argued would give the U.S. too much control over patents, copyrights and new technologies. It got both.

"We were not going to make concessions just to get a deal," one official said Tuesday as the prime minister winged his way back from Asia. "We are going to demonstrate to Canadians that this government is doing everything it can to achieve the standards we have set."

Canadians, though, weren't the only audience Trudeau appeared to have had in mind this weekend as he met with world leaders in Vietnam and the Philippines.

NAFTA talks loom large

Another was the Trump Administration, which is demanding significant concessions from its North American neighbours in return for not scrapping NAFTA.

Trudeau is aware there can be no "win, win, win" in negotiations with Trump. The U.S. president's playbook designated only one winner, and it's him.

In these NAFTA negotiations, that means demanding the inclusion of the same intellectual property provisions that Canada opposes in the TPP. It means demanding Canada and Mexico agree to guarantees of, for example, specific quotas for U.S.-made parts in cars made in North America, and a dispute resolution mechanism that will mean more wins for the U.S. than the existing third-party system that has often ruled against it.

The demands are so extreme that even some American business groups have dubbed them "poison pills" Trump can use to justify scrapping NAFTA as negotiators prepare to resume talks later this week in Mexico City.

Bringing 'progressive' values to the table

And there was a third message, this one for the other countries Canada is looking to for future trade deals: China, India and Southeast Asian countries that don't necessarily share the same kind of progressive ideals Trudeau is determined to promote.

"That's very much a position of the Trudeau government," said Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier who now works extensively on international trade issues, in an interview this weekend with CBC News.

"Remember, this is what they brought to the table in NAFTA, so they have to be consistent. They are bringing it to the table on TPP."

Those are the big themes that played into Trudeau's thinking this weekend. But practical considerations played a role, too.

Both Canada and Mexico had to be aware of the danger in signing a new Pacific Rim deal without the U.S. that runs counter to the demands being made by the Trump administration for specific U.S. content in North American automobiles.

And then there's the demand from both the U.S. and New Zealand, for example, for changes to Canada's supply management system in the dairy industry. It's not clear whether the Canadian government has the kind of buy-in it wants or needs from Canadian dairy producers at this stage.

Of course, trade agreements are largely about choices and trade-offs - giving more access in one sector to secure preferential treatment in another.

With so many trade talks already underway, and more likely in the future, this give-and-take balancing act is going to get a whole lot tougher.