Zimbabwe’s military appeared to be in control of the country today as generals denied staging a coup but used state television to vow to target “Criminals” close to President Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe’s decades-long grip on power was dramatically weakened as military vehicles blocked roads outside the parliament in Harare and senior soldiers delivered a late-night television address to the nation.

Major General Sibusiso Moyo said the President and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.

He said we are only targeting criminals around him.

We wish to assure the nation that his Excellency, the president of the republic of Zimbabwe and commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence forces, Comrade R.G Mugabe and his family, are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.

Moyo said “This is not a military takeover of government”.

But the Generals’ actions posed as a major challenge to the ageing Mugabe, 93, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-Pf, has posted a series of tweets, denying there has been a coup, but adding there had been a “bloodless transition” of power.

Tensions between the veteran leader and the military, which has long helped prop up his authoritarian rule, have erupted in public in recent days.

The Zanu-Pf party on Tuesday accused army chief general Constantino Chiwenga of “Treasonable conduct” after he criticized Mugabe for sacking vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa’s dismissal left Mugabe’s wife grace, 52, in Prime position to succeed her husband as the next president — a succession strongly opposed by senior ranks in the military.

As the situation deteriorated overnight, prolonged gunfire was heard near Mugabe’s private residence.

The US Embassy warned its citizens in the Country to “shelter in place” due to “ongoing political uncertainty”.

Armored vehicles in the Capital alarmed residents as Chiwenga had warned of possible military intervention. The army’s spokesman was not available to comment.