FOUR tanks have been spotted heading towards the Zimbabwean capital Harare after a military chief warned the armed forces are ready to “step in” to a political row that began last week.
Witnesses said the tanks turned before reaching Harare, heading towards the Presidential Guard compound in a suburb called Dzivarasekwa on the outskirts of Harare.
One nearby witness said: "There were about four tanks and they turned right here, you can see markings on the road.”
Soldiers were spotted at the scene but refused to talk to reporters.
Following the sacking of the country’s vice-president last week, the head of the armed forces General Constantino Chiwenga demanded an end to a purge in the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Emerson Mnangangwa, who was sacked by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe last week, had been expected to succeed the 93-year-old leader but his sacking suggests that that Mugabe is paving the way for his wife Grace, 52, to take over as leader.
Mr Mnangangwa had been popular with the military following his role in Zimbabwe's liberation wars in the 1970s and comments made by General Chiwega appear to show where the army's allegiance lies.
He told reporters on Monday: "We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.
"The current purging ... targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith."
On Tuesday evening, two armoured personnel carriers were seen on the outskirts of the Zimbabwean capital, along with soldiers directing traffic.
The soldiers were directing traffic and ordered passing cars to keep their windows up and not ask questions.
"Don't try anything funny, just go," one soldier said to a Reuters reporter.
Mr Mugabe has been the Zimbabwean leader for 37 years.
His wife has a strong following in the powerful youth wing of the ZANU-PF party and her slow rise has been seen as a challenge to many of the independence-era war veterans who hold powerful positions within Zimbabwean society.
Neither the president nor Grace Mugabe have responded to Genera Chiwenga's comments but the ZANU-PF youth wing has accused him of subverting the constitution.
Kudzai Chipanga, who leads the youth league, said: "We will not hold out hands to allow a creature of the constitution to subvert the very constitution which establishes it.
"Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for."
The news comes after the ruling ZANU-PF party described the army chief's statement as "treasonable conduct" and had been calculated to disturb peace and stability.
It added that the party reaffirms "primacy of politics over the gun" and said it would never succumb to military pressure.
The political tensions in Zimbabwe come as the country struggles to pay for imports following a dollar crunch, which has also left the country short of cash.
The US state department has urged all parties in Zimbabwe to "calmly and peacefully" resolve the ongoing disputes and said its embassy in Harare is closely monitoring the situation.
Martin Rupiya, an expert on Zimbabwe military affairs at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said the army appeared to be putting the squeeze on Mugabe.
He said: "There's a rupture between the executive and the armed forces."
Alex Magaisa, a British-based Zimbabwean academic said it was too early for talk about a coup.
"A military coup is the nuclear option. A coup would be a very hard sell at home and in the international community. They will want to avoid that,"