Ending President Robert Mugabe's four decades of authoritative regime in Zimbabwe, army has taken over and kept the 93-year-old leader under house arrest on Wednesday, hours after the military announced it had taken over the strings of power.

Mugabe has kept a tight grip on his southern African nation despite his increasing diplomatic isolation from the West but he was finally brought down apparently by his former allies and opposition officials.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who was the only one to have had spoken to Mugabe, said the Zimbabwean leader "was confined to his home but he was fine". Troops have been visible in the country's Parliament and Presidential Palace, the New York Times reported.

In a televised statement early on Wednesday, an Army spokesman denied that a military coup took place. But reports have confirmed that the Army was in control of the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp (ZBC), with a significant military presence at the international airport.

After taking over ZBC, two uniformed officers said in a terse pre-dawn announcement that "the situation in our country has moved to another level". Denying that the military had seized power, they said Mugabe and his family "are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed", the BBC reported.

"We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice," said Major General S.B. Moyo, the Army's Chief of Staff.

He warned that "any provocation will be met with an appropriate response".

The early morning broadcast interruption came less than 48 hours after Army commander Constantino Chiwenga said that "when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in". Mugabe's ruling party Zanu-PF accused Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct".

Witnesses reported tanks and soldiers moving around the city overnight along with sounds of gunfire and explosions. By morning, soldiers in armoured vehicles controlled major intersections near government buildings. But otherwise the streets appeared to be calm. Shops and banks were open and most people carried on business as usual.

Some people praised the military while many said they feared speaking about the coup.

Street vendor Tendai Muganhu, 43, said, "I am happy because I know whoever will come into power won't be like Mugabe, won't chase vendors from streets, but will certainly improve our lives."

The military did not confirm whether Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, had been removed as President or not. Even several members of the Zanu-PF party had been detained by the military, including cabinet ministers, said local reports.

The army coup came after weeks of political turmoil, in which Mugabe sacked his powerful Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who enjoyed wide support in the military and was tipped to become the next leader. The move fuelled speculation Mugabe would try to install his wife, Grace, to succeed him.

Now that the coup is confirmed, Mnangagwa was reported to be on his way back to Zimbabwe and tipped to be the country's new leader. Negotiations were underway between Mnangagwa's allies and opposition parties to possibly form an interim government that would soften international criticism of the military takeover.

Mnangagwa was also known to be on good terms with Morgan Tsvangirai, the longtime leader of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Chris Mutsvangwa, an aide to Mnangagwa, said that in a possible interim government, Mnangagwa would serve as President and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.(With inputs from IANS)