Power slips from Mugabe as military steps in

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Political turmoil escalated in Zimbabwe overnight, raising the question of whether 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe remains in control of the country he's ruled for nearly four decades - or if he's been overthrown in a military coup.

Heavy gunfire and artillery have also been heard in northern suburbs, although the situation is unclear, BBC reported on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces Major General SB Moyo makes an announcement on state broadcaster ZBC, in this still image taken from a November 15, 2017 video.

He said that Mugabe and his family were "safe and sound and their security is guaranteed".

"We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice", Zimbabwe Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on television.

The US State Department said it was "closely monitoring" the situation in Zimbabwe and urged all parties to resolve disputes "calmly and peacefully".

Tensions were building in Zimbabwe since Mnangagwa, a powerful figure in Zanu-PF party, fled to South Africa last week after he was sacked and was then stripped of his lifetime membership of the party.

It was not clear where Mugabe, 93, and his wife were Wednesday but it seems they are in the custody of the military.

Three men and a woman were also arrested after they allegedly booed Grace Mugabe at a ruling party rally.

The US embassy warned its citizens in the country to "shelter in place" due to "ongoing political uncertainty".

The statement from the ZANU-PF party was released amid worries that the military might be taking action to oust Mugabe.

Chiwenga said: "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".

Earlier on Tuesday Kudzai Chipanga, the leader of Zanu-PF's youth wing, accused Gen Chiwenga of stealing billions of rands and said his movement would act to protect the president.

Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe November 14, 2017.

General Chiwenga had demanded that Mr Mugabe stop purges of senior party figures, including vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was dismissed last week. "United States citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice".

The former vice president and freedom fighter in the country's liberation wars has since gone into hiding and his whereabouts are unknown. Mnangagwa is a veteran of the liberation war. A potential flashpoint could come next week, when supporters of Mnangagwa plan to march against Mugabe in Harare.

Both the USA and British embassies in Zimbabwe have advised their nationals to stay indoors because of what they call the 'uncertain situation'.