Pressure grows on Mugabe as thousands attend rally calling for him to quit

Crowds have gathered on the streets of Zimbabwe's capital to demand Robert Mugabe's four decades of power come to an end.

Thousands of people have been singing, dancing and waving flags at the colourful gathering in Harare - and the event has been approved by the military.

Some carried posters with an image of the military commander who placed the President under house arrest earlier this week, along with the slogan: "Go, go, our general!!!"

One opponent of Mr Mugabe, who at 93 is the world's oldest head of state, described the upheaval as "like Christmas".

Another marcher, Frank Mutsindikwa, told Reuters: "These are tears of joy. I've been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last."

The rally has been organised by veterans of the country's independence war and long-standing opponents of Mugabe.

"We can't have a 93-year-old person ruling more than 15 million people," a poster circulating around the city said.

The army has been holding talks with Mr Mugabe on the "way forward" - and in a statement read on state-run television, military officials said the operation "remains solid" and urged Zimbabweans to remain patient.

Mr Mugabe, who stoked anger with the sacking of his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been left virtually powerless after being deserted by most of his allies.

All 10 regional branches of his ruling Zanu-PF party have passed votes of no confidence in Mr Mugabe - with spokesmen from each area appearing on the news to read near identical statements calling for him to quit.

"The province resolved unanimously to recall the president ... from being the president of the party and the government," said Cornelius Mupereri, a spokesman for the party's Midlands region.

According to Zimbabwe's war veterans' association, Mr Mugabe has asked for "a few more days, a few more months".

He made his first public appearance since the apparent coup earlier on Friday, turning up at a graduation ceremony at the University of Zimbabwe.

Wearing an academic gown and mortar board, he was cheered by the crowd as he opened the ceremony.

The catalyst for the move against Mr Mugabe was the removal of his vice president, who was believed to be the military's preferred candidate to replace the President if he died or resigned.

This cleared the way for first lady Grace Mugabe - who is 41 years younger than Mr Mugabe - to succeed her husband, a prospect that is thought to have angered many top military officers.