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Zimbabwe takeover: Five things you should know

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As the world waits to see what happens next after Robert Mugabe refused to resign despite pressure from the army and the ruling Zanu-PF party, we look at some of the key things you should know about the country and its current situation.

1. The economy is in a mess

Zimbabwe has gone from one economic crisis to another over the last decade. Estimates of the country's unemployment levels vary, but the country's biggest trade union claims the jobless rate was as high as 90% earlier this year.

Zimbabwe has struggled with hyperinflation, which peaked in 2008 with an official rate of 231 million per cent. The country was forced to abandon its own currency at a rate of Z$35 quadrillion to US$1, adopting the use of foreign cash.

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Because of a continuing chronic shortage of hard money, the government issued their own version of dollars called bond notes, but they have rapidly lost their value.

People with money stored electronically in banks are unable to access it, or are subject to strict limits on what they can withdraw. Because of this, crypto-currencies that are traded online have risen in popularity. Following the news of the military takeover, Bitcoin prices in Harare surged on Wednesday.

2. Mugabe has been controversial for some time

The 93-year-old leader has confounded his critics by staying in power for so long. Sometimes dismissed as a cartoon figure abroad, he was viewed in Zimbabwe, at least originally, as a revolutionary hero who fought against white minority rule, and still enjoys respect as the "father of the nation".

But he and his supporters have used violence to keep a tight grip on power, using the machinery of the state to bolster his party and himself.

His party says it is fighting capitalism and colonialism, but the country's economic problems have tested even his most ardent supporters.

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He has often said he would only step down when his "revolution" was complete, but also wants to handpick his successor - something that led to the current crisis.

3. His unpopular wife caused his downfall

Aged 93 and in visible decline, the battle to succeed him intensified in recent months.

The ruling party split into two factions - one backing his wife Grace, 40 years his junior, and the other his long-time ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

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When he sacked Mr Mnangagwa, it was obvious that he was backing his wife to take power.

She was deeply unpopular, partly because of her love of shopping, which led to her nickname "Gucci Grace".

Mr Mnangagwa fought in the 1970s war of independence which brought Mr Mugabe to power and retains close ties with many other former comrades, who occupy senior positions across the top of all of Zimbabwe's security forces.

So when he was ousted, they intervened on his behalf.

4. Any new leader may not be a big change

If the ousted Mr Mnangagwa does succeed Mr Mugabe as president, he is cut from the same cloth.

He has featured prominently in all of the atrocities and attacks on opposition supporters which have been carried out since Mr Mugabe came to power.

However, he has hinted that he may introduce some economic reforms, and even work with the opposition in some form of transitional government.

5. Was it a coup or not?

The military certainly intervened, however they have not replaced the president - yet.

In a statement on television, the military said it had temporarily taken control to "target criminals" around the head of state, not Mr Mugabe himself, and still referred to him as "commander-in-chief".

image copyrightAFP

The army wants a veneer of constitutionality to be preserved, and certainly none of his former comrades wants to arrest him, or worse, as often happens to leaders when the military takes over.

The army wants a political process to play out - Mr Mugabe to resign and Zanu-PF to name a new leader.

And the military encouraged a public march to increase pressure on him, and show that their actions had the popular support.

So far, however, he is refusing to play ball, even though the ruling Zanu-PF party has sacked him as its leader, and so parliament may have to impeach him.

However, on Sunday, Mr Mugabe vowed to remain as president until the Zanu-PF congress, due in December, so it is far from clear what happens next.

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