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Zimbabwe: What is a coup?

The military have taken control in Zimbabwe and broadcast on state TVReuters
The military have taken control in Zimbabwe and broadcast on state TV

The army has taken control in the African country of Zimbabwe.

If you want to know more about the situation there, take a look at our guide.

Many people are calling this takeover a coup - but what exactly is a coup?

What is a coup?
tankAFP
Tanks and soldiers have started appearing on the streets of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe

A 'coup' is a French word that literally means a blow or strike.

People often just say 'coup' when they're talking about a coup d'état which, in French, literally means a strike against the state.

This is when people illegally take action to overthrow the government - and often use violence or threats to make it happen.

They normally do this because they are not happy with how the government is run and want to take power themselves.

What kind of action do they take?

People taking part in coups use different tactics to gain control.

They might take over governmental buildings and imprison the people in power.

They might also take control of the state TV and media, in order to get their message out to the country.

What is a military coup?
Army leadersGetty Images
Top army leaders in Zimbabwe have taken control of government buildings and troops are patrolling the streets

Often, the people doing this are the armed forces - which is why it is also called a military coup.

The army has access to weapons so can more easily threaten force to get what it wants.

In many countries, the army has a lot of power and influence.

Is Zimbabwe a coup?

The armed forces who have taken over the country say that this isn't a coup.

They say they are targeting the people who are close to President Mugabe, rather than the president himself.

However, a lot of their actions seem to point to a coup.

Mugabe has been held in his house and there are armed forces in governmental buildings and on the streets of Zimbabwe.

Are coups a good idea?
MugabeAFP
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years and many people there are angry about the way he runs the country

Coups usually happen when an unpopular government has been in power - so there is often a lot of support for the coup among people living there.

However, coups do not always lead to positive change and instead can bring instability to a country.

This is because people start to lose respect for the idea of government and authority, because the power has so quickly been transferred from one group to another.

Coups are also undemocratic. In democracies, people all get to vote on who is in power, but during a coup, one group takes power by force - even if they say they are only doing it for a short time.

How do I pronounce it?

This is an easy one to get wrong! Coup is a French word so drop the 'p' and pronounce it 'coo'.