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Zimbabwe Army Chief Continues to Clash With Government Officials

FILE - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, right, talks to General Constantine Chiwenga upon his arrival at Harare International Airport, July 4, 2008.

Political tensions ratcheted up in Zimbabwe this week as the commander of the army, General Constantine Chiwenga, warned the ruling ZANU-PF to stop purging members who had served in the anti-colonial rebellion.

The warning came after President Robert Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. That action opened the way for Mugabe's wife, Grace, to become vice president, and then to possibly succeed him as head of the government.

Surrounded by more than 60 generals and senior officers, Chiwenga warned the military would not tolerate having a national leader who was not part of the rebel forces. Grace Mugabe wasn't part of the independence movement.

The warning prompted accusations of treason from many in the ruling ZANU-PF party. Other party members played the accusations down, saying Chiwenga acted alone.

This was not the first time the general waded into politics. He sparred a few months ago with Minister for Higher Education Joseph Moyo, who had criticized a program on command-led agriculture. Mnangagwa, also a former rebel fighter, led that program.

And in August, Chiwenga clashed with Patrick Zhuwao, the minister for youth, indigenization and economic empowerment, over a veterans group.

Chiwenga, 61, joined forces fighting for independence from Britain in the early 1970s. He has led the Zimbabwe armed forces since 2004.

There are reports he has long had an eye on taking over the presidency from Mugabe. However, the military is seen as being more allied with Mnangagwa, who is thought to be in exile.

Chiwenga and his wife are on the list of Zimbabwe officials under economic sanctions from both the United States and the European Union. The sanctions include travel bans.