Robert Mugabe, former Zimbabwe president, dead at 95

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By Phil Helsel  with NBC News World News
Image: TOPSHOT-ZIMBABWE-POLITICS-VOTE-MUGABE
In this file photo, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe gives a surprise press conference at his home in Harare, on the eve of the country's first election since he was ousted from office last year after 37 years in power.   -   Copyright  Jekesai Njikizana

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe who was in power from 1980 until his resignation after a military coup in 2017, has died, the country's current president announced Friday morning.

"It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe," President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, who was elected after Mugabe stepped down, tweeted.

Mugabe's family also confirmed his death to the BBC, and said the former president had been battling ill health.

Mugabe, 95, was the world's oldest ruler when he resigned as Zimbabwe's president in November of 2017, following a military coup.

Before he resigned, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party had already removed Mugabe as leader and named Mnangagwa in his place.

Mnangagwa said Friday that Mugabe was "an icon of liberation" and "a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people."

"His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace," Mnangagwa tweeted.

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Fadzayi Mahere, a politician with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, tweeted "rest in peace" and "My response to your passing is complicated ... However, for now, deepest condolences to his family."

Before he resigned, it was said that Mugabe's firing of Mnangagwa as his vice president, which would have paved the way for Mugabe's wife, Grace, to succeed him, triggered the army to seize control.

The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said the at the time that the resignation of Mugabe "marks an historic moment" for the country and congratulated all Zimbabweans who raised their voices.

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May said the resignation of Mugabe gave Zimbabwe "an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterized his rule."

Mnangagwa, 76, was elected president in 2018 in an election that was marred by the deaths of six people in an army crackdown on opposition protests,Reuters reported at the time.

The economy of Zimbabwe, an African nation of more than 16 million north of South Africa and bordered by Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, collapsed under Mugabe after 37 years of near one-party rule.

His last five-year term began in 2013 after elections that the U.S. criticized as flawed. Mugabe responded by telling his critics to "go hang."