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Zimbabwe’s sacked vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, said Wednesday he had fled the country, as he issued a direct challenge to long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.

The ruling ZANU-PF party “is not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please,” Mnangagwa said in an angry five-page statement, vowing he would return to Zimbabwe to lead party members.

Mnangagwa was the foremost contender to succeed Mugabe, 93, but his abrupt removal appeared to clear the way for Grace to take over as president.

His vow to fight back marked a new level of political instability in Zimbabwe, where Mugabe, who is in increasingly frail health, has ruled unopposed for decades.

“(ZANU-PF) is now a party controlled by undisciplined, egotistical and self-serving minnows who derive their power not from the people and party but from only two individuals in the form of the First Family,” Mnangagwa said.

Mnangagwa, 75, had been one of the president’s closest allies since Mugabe took power in 1980 after leading the fight against British rule.

He was sacked on Monday following weeks of public clashes with Mugabe and Grace.

– ‘We dealt with him’ –

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“We dealt with him and hope we can deal with others who were conspirators alongside him,” President Mugabe told thousands of cheering supporters in Harare on Wednesday.

He said Mnangagwa “was lacking supreme discipline which we should show at the top.”

Mnangagwa said he had viewed his relationship with Mugabe as like between a father and son, and that he had even acted as Mugabe’s personal bodyguard.

But in his statement, he described Mugabe as “one stubborn individual who believes he is entitled to rule this country until death.”

He did not reveal which country he was in, but said he had been forced to leave due to “incessant threats”.

On Saturday, Grace Mugabe was jeered at a rally in Bulawayo in front of the president.

She shouted back at the hecklers: “If you have been paid to boo me, boo, go ahead… I don’t care, I am powerful.”

State media said the jeering was by Mnangagwa’s supporters.

“I don’t think there’ll be reconciliation — both Mnangagwa and Mugabe have crossed the Rubicon,” Derek Matyszak, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told AFP.

“Does it mean he’s going to encourage people to take to the streets? We’ll have to see.”

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