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Has a police crackdown on Mugabe's once loyal supporters begun?

Frustration is growing in Zimbabwe over its rapidly deteriorating economy and alleged corruption, which President Mugabe's former supporters blame on a 'bankrupt leadership.'

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People react as they gather for an address by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, at the Zanu PF party headquarters, in Harare, Wednesday, July, 27, 2016. Zimbabwe's 92-year-old president on Wednesday said the longtime loyalists who turned against him last week should face 'severe' punishment, and he vowed to stay in power for 'a long time.'

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

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Zimbabwe police have detained the spokesman of the veterans association that turned on President Robert Mugabe last week and called him dictatorial, raising concerns that a crackdown on what had been the president's most loyal supporters has begun.

Douglas Mahiya's detention comes a day after the 92-year-old Mugabe vowed "severe" punishment for the authors of the harshly worded statement by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association.

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Mahiya was detained on Wednesday night, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said Thursday.

The veterans have been Mugabe's core loyalists since the southern African country's 1970s liberation war against white rule, often using violence to crush the opposition.

Frustration is growing in Zimbabwe over its rapidly deteriorating economy and alleged corruption, which the veterans' statement blamed on "bankrupt leadership."

"This rot needs to be uprooted, and right now," they said.

The association, whose members are in their 60s and older, also announced it would no longer support Mugabe's political campaigns, accusing him of abandoning the veterans for the youth league of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The 92-year-old Mugabe told thousands of supporters on Wednesday that Western countries had infiltrated the veterans association. The president also demanded new leaders for the group.

Despite growing criticism that included nationwide protests organized via social media earlier this month, Mugabe has repeatedly said he plans to run again in 2018 and rule until he dies.

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The world's oldest head of state has been in power for 36 years, and this month he told critics to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.