Robert Mugabe (AP Photo/File)

Robert Mugabe (AP Photo/File)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP)—Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war made a significant break with President Robert Mugabe for the first time Thursday, calling him dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric.

The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association has been a pillar of support for the 92-year-old leader for decades, but it released a statement criticizing the man it had long been quick to defend. The veterans are known for unleashing violence on those opposing the government.

The surprise revolt by Mugabe’s aging corps of loyalists comes after nationwide anti-government protests organized via social media. Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by a rapidly deteriorating economy, a currency crisis and alleged corruption.

“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 statement said after dozens of veterans’ representatives from around the country met Thursday, changing anti-government slogans.

The group said it would no longer support Mugabe’s political campaigns, accusing him of abandoning the veterans for the youth league of the ruling party ZANU-PF.

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