Simon Thomas, acting British ambassador, confirmed that soldiers were currently deployed at strategic locations around Harare. The British Embassy issued a warning to its citizens, citing “reports of unusual military activity”.
“Although it doesn’t look like a coup, it is a coup,” Alex Magaisa, a senior Zimbabwe analyst told The Telegraph.
The coup is widely seen as part of a battle between the army and Mrs Mugabe, the first lady, over the presidential succession.
Some sources have suggested that his wife, Grace Mugabe, who had wanted to take over from her husband, has left Zimbabwe for Namibia.
But Trevor Ncube, a Zimbabwean newspaper owner, says the President’s wife is actually still in the capital.
However, Eddie Cross, a white MP from Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, also said he believed Grace Mugabe was now in Namibia.
Nick Mangwana, a Zanu-PF representative in the UK, told the BBC that the First Lady was no longer in Zimbabwe.
The recently fired vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday morning from South Africa, where he had fled after being stripped of his office.
Tensions mounted after Mnangagwa, a powerful figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party, fled to South Africa and subsequently stripped of his lifetime membership of the party. The army has remained loyal to Mnangagwa.
South African president, Jacob Zuma, meanwhile said he had spoken to Mugabe, who was “fine”.
Zimbabwean defence forces took over control of the state broadcaster ZBC, with their spokesman Maj Gen SB Moyo screening a statement declaring they were only “targeting criminals” around Mugabe.
“We wish to make this abundantly clear this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe defence forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.”
The Zimbabwean military statement continued: “To the other Security Services: We urge you to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”
The army had acted in response to a purge of Zanu-PF members, including Mnangagwa.
Several cabinet ministers, including local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and finance minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were arrested. All three are fiercely loyal to Grace Mugabe.
Chombo is a member of the G40 faction inside the ruling Zanu-PF party, led by Mugabe’s wife. There was allegedly a brief gun fight outside Chombo’s house.
Armoured vehicles and troopsloyal to the vice-president on Wednesday morning blocked roads in the capital Harare around government buildings and the presidential residence.
Gun and artillery fire reportedly rang out in the northern parts of the city when the military had seized control of the country on Wednesday morning. The recently named Robert Mugabe International Airport is now under military watch.
Amnesty International have called on the Zimbabwe National Army to uphold “human rights”.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, told the House of Commons that Britain was closely monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe, which she described as remaining fluid.
The French foreign ministry has urged all parties in Zimbabwe to seek a peaceful solution, while a spokeswoman said a French school in Zimbabwe had been closed as part of broader security measures.
“The recent political developments in Zimbabwe, and their spillover, including in relation to the country’s security forces, are a matter of concern,” said a spokesman for the European Commission.
“We are following the situation closely and we want to underline that the fundamental rights of all citizens need to be respected and the constitutional order and democratic governance needs to be upheld,” he added in a statement.
“We call on all relevant players to move from confrontation to dialogue with the aim to a peaceful crisis resolution.”
At least three explosions were heard in near the university on Wednesday too, South African sources say.
The US Embassy closed to the public on Wednesday citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.”
A military intervention in Zimbabwe would be fraught with legal problems. The African Union and the regional 15-nation Southern African Development Community have both stated that they would not recognise any authority coming to power by means of a coup d’etat.
The BBC meanwhile quoted from a parody Twitter account during the Today programme with presenter Nick Robinson citing @Zanu_pf as “the official Zanu PF account”. He spent some 25 seconds repeating its claims verbatim.
Thanks to British support for Mugabe’s despotic rule, the country’s natural resources have been pillaged leaving its residents poorer and close to starvation.