Zimbabwe's military was in control of the country on Wednesday as President Robert Mugabe said he was under house arrest and his generals denied staging a coup.
Mugabe's decades-long grip on power appeared to be slipping as armoured military vehicles blockaded parliament, soldiers took up positions at strategic points across Harare and senior soldiers commandeered state television to broadcast a late-night address.
"The president... and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed," Major General Sibusiso Moyo said late Tuesday.
"We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes... As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy."
Moyo added: "This is not a military takeover of government".
Their shock announcement was later followed by heavy gunfire close to the 93-year-old president's private residence, and prompted angry responses from around the world.
Mugabe later told South African President Jacob Zuma that he was effectively under house arrest -- though unharmed. Several supporters of Mugabe and his wife Grace are reportedly in military custody.
Pretoria said it would deploy a military and intelligence delegation to Harare to help broker a resolution to the crisis on behalf of southern Africa's regional bloc.
The Southern African Development Community said it would hold an emergency meeting in Botswana on Thursday to discuss the situation.
South Africa, the European Union, the United Nations and Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial master, all called for restraint.