Veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war have said they will no longer back President Robert Mugabe in elections, in a surprise revolt that comes after a series of recent nationwide anti-government protests.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, which had been a pillar of support for the 92-year-old leader for decades, denounced Mugabe on Thursday, calling him dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric.
Mugabe: Evan Mawarire sponsored by foreign countries
"We note, with concern, shock and dismay, the systematic entrenchment of dictatorial tendencies, personified by the president and his cohorts, which have slowly devoured the values of the liberation struggle," the group said in a statement.
The veterans said they would no longer support Mugabe's political campaigns, accusing him of abandoning them for the youth league of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
READ MORE: Zimbabwe's season of rising discontent
Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by a rapidly deteriorating economy, a currency crisis and alleged corruption.
Mugabe, who has been in power for 36 years, has recently turned toward the youth league for political support, including in two rallies attended by tens of thousands of people.
Earlier this week, Mugabe responded to the recent anti-government protests, telling critics to leave Zimbabwe if they were unhappy with conditions at home.
The veterans' group indicated it has had enough of such talk from the president.
"We are dismayed by the president's tendency to indulge, in his usual vitriol against perceived enemies, including peaceful protesters, as well as war veterans, when the economy is on its knees," their statement said.
"He has a lot to answer for the serious plight of the national economy."
They also blamed the southern African country's economic crisis, the worst since it dumped its hyperinflation-hit currency in 2009 and adopted the US dollar, on "bankrupt leadership".
Mugabe under pressure?
This week, Mugabe shrugged off criticisms by Christian pastor Evan Mawarire, who has become the figurehead of the anti-government protests fuelled by social media postings.
"I don't even know him," Mugabe said, accusing Mawarire of inciting violence and being backed by foreign countries.
Earlier this month, many offices, shops and some government departments were closed for a one-day strike against economic troubles that have been worsened by a severe drought.
Zimbabwe spends at least 80 percent of its revenue on state workers' wages, according to officials, and about 90 percent of the population is out of formal employment.
Last week hundreds of Mawarire supporters rallied outside a court in the capital, Harare, until the pastor was released when a case against him of attempting to overthrow the government was dismissed.
Other protests have erupted at the border with South Africa after many basic imports were outlawed, as well as in Harare over police officers allegedly using road blocks to extort cash from motorists.
Salaries for civil servants and soldiers have again been delayed this month, and further protests are planned in the capital on Saturday and Monday.