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Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe resigned on Tuesday, six days after the military took over the country and placed the veteran leader under house arrest.

As MPs initiated impeachment proceedings against the president, Jacob Mudenda, the speaker, interrupted the process to say he had received a letter of resignation from Mr Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African nation with an autocratic grip for 37 years. Lawmakers from the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition cheered as the historic announcement was made.

“I, Robert Mugabe, hereby tender my resignation as president of Zimbabwe with immediate effect,” the 93-year-old said in the letter, according to a person familiar with its contents.

Once one of Africa’s most respected leaders, Mr Mugabe presided over Zimbabwe’s economic collapse but had insisted on clinging to power, fuelling bitter succession battles that divided his Zanu-PF party.

Zimbabweans poured on to the streets to celebrate the resignation of the man who has ruled them since independence from Britain in 1980.

“Thirty-seven years is not a joke, this is fantastic for Zimbabwe, we could not talk freely, now we can,” said Machona, a 63-year-old pensioner shouting and cheering in Harare.

“I’m so very, very happy — farewell to the president, goodbye” said Godknows Mwanza, a motorist beeping his horn repeatedly and offering fist bumps to passers-by.

The impeachment motion had been filed by a Zanu-PF parliamentarian and seconded by an MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as pressure mounted on Mr Mugabe to step down.

Zanu-PF had already dismissed Mr Mugabe as the party’s leader and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president whose sacking triggered the army intervention, on Tuesday agreed to become its interim head. Mr Mnangagwa, who was once the president’s feared right-hand man and a former security chief with ties to Zimbabwe’s liberation war veterans, is the favourite to take over from Mr Mugabe and had joined calls on Tuesday for the president to step down.

“The people of Zimbabwe have spoken with one voice and it is my appeal to President Mugabe that he should take heed of this clarion call . . . to resign so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy,” he said in his first statement since the military intervention.

Mr Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe after his sacking and had refused to return citing fears for his safety, would be coming back in the next 48 hours to take over as leader, according to Patrick Chinamasa, a senior Zanu-PF official

Mr Mnangagwa’s firing came after a vicious struggle with Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, over the succession to her husband. Members of the Zanu-PF faction loyal to Mrs Mugabe were arrested in the military intervention last week.

Mr Mugabe had chaired a weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, but only five ministers turned up while 17 attended a meeting to plan the impeachment process, Reuters reported.

Welshman Ncube, a senior opposition leader, said Mr Mnangagwa had two options, the first being to take over from Mr Mugabe and seek to win next year’s elections for Zanu-PF. Or he could take a “broader approach which looks at national question, the economic crisis, the social crisis, the governance crisis,” Mr Ncube said.

That would involve some kind of transitional government involving members of the opposition in order to read a broad consensus about the way forward.

“I suppose it’s relief and anxiety at the same time; relief that the symbol and face of the ruin of our country is finally over, and anxiety that the people who are taking over were supporters of his ruinous 37-year rule,” Mr Ncube said.

The army had from the start insisted it was not leading a coup and had not asked for Mr Mugabe’s immediate departure. General Constantino Chiwenga, head of Zimbabwe’s defence forces, had said on Monday that the military was “encouraged” by discussions between Mr Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa. He said the pair were discussing a “road map” to resolve the country’s crisis.

In what appeared to be a warning to politicians and others not to interfere, Gen Chiwenga also said that Zanu-PF, veterans, opposition leaders and the public should not do anything to “threaten peace, life and property”.

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