HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's 92-year-old president on Wednesday said the longtime loyalists who turned against him last week should face "severe" punishment, and he vowed to stay in power for "a long time."
President Robert Mugabe made his first public response to a scathing statement by veterans of the country's 1970's liberation war. They called him dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association long had been quick to defend Mugabe, even with violence.
Mugabe demanded new leadership for the association, claiming Western countries have infiltrated it.
"We have ordered an investigation to identify authors of the statement. ... The punishment will be severe," he said to thousands of supporters at the ruling ZANU-PF party's headquarters in the capital, Harare.
Mugabe insisted he will not step down.
"As long as the party still wants me to serve, if I still have the energy and still have the life, I will continue," he said.
The surprise revolt by Mugabe's aging corps of loyalists comes after nationwide anti-government protests organized through social media. Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by a rapidly deteriorating economy, a currency crisis and corruption.
One protest organizer, pastor Evan Mawarire, is now staying in neighboring South Africa after Mugabe accused him of being sponsored by the West.
The veterans' criticism has unsettled Mugabe, said Eldred Masunungure of the University of Zimbabwe's political science department.
"This is a result of his failure to hand over power. The succession war is driving towards a tipping point," Masunungure said.
The veterans accuse Mugabe of dumping them for a more youthful group associated with his wife, Grace, whose political power has dramatically increased in the past two years.