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Possible Mugabe Successor Takes Office

Emmerson Mnangagwa, left, Vice President of Zimbabwe chats with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe after the swearing in ceremony at State House in Harare, Dec, 12, 2014.

Zimbabwe has two new vice presidents, including the man many see as the likely successor to 90-year-old President Robert Mugabe.

Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as the country's first vice president during a ceremony at Zimbabwe's State House on Friday.

Mnangagwa, 68, was Mr. Mugabe's aide during Zimbabwe's war of liberation and has held several key positions, including state security minister, speaker of parliament, and the president's campaign manager during the disputed 2008 election.

Mnangagwa is known as "The Crocodile" for both his physical appearance and his political tactics. Critics say he was involved in the killing of some 20,000 civilians in the mid-1980s as the government tried to crush opposition in the Matabeleland region.

The director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, Pedzisai Ruhanya, says there is no difference between the president and Mnangagwa in terms of character.

"People are saying that he was responsible for Mr. Mugabe's retention of power after he lost the first round in March 2008," Ruhanya said. "So what brought Mr. Mugabe's victory in the June 2008, the sham election, was coercion and Mr. Mnangagwa was controlling that coercion. But the other thing is that Mr. Mnangagwa also was the minister of the intelligence in the 1980s when there was Gukurahundi, so they associated it with him, with Mr. Mnangagwa. So they seem him as a hard man. As someone who uses violence."

Mnangagwa, like President Mugabe, is on a U.S. sanctions list that prohibits Americans from doing business with him or business entities he controls. The sanctions were imposed in response to alleged election rigging and human rights violations by the Zimbabwean government.

Zimbabwe's second vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, was also sworn in Friday. Mphoko is also a veteran of the liberation war and has served as Zimbabwe's ambassador to South Africa.

The two men were appointed this week after Mr. Mugabe fired his longtime deputy Joice Mujuru. The president accused Mujuru of plotting to assassinate him -- an allegation Mujuru has denied.

President Mugabe has held onto power for 34 years since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain, defying analysts who predicted ill health or political turmoil would oust him from office.