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Emmerson Mnangagwa Photo: VCG

Zimbabwe's former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa was to return to the country Wednesday to take power after Robert Mugabe's resignation as Zimbabwe's president.

Ahead of Mnangagwa's arrival, state media said he would be sworn in as president on Friday.

Mugabe's iron grip ended in an announcement to parliament where MPs had convened to impeach him.

On the streets, the news that his long leadership was over sparked wild celebrations which lasted late into the night, with crowds dancing and cheering ecstatically amid a cacophony of car horns.

"Comrade Mnangagwa is coming back today," senior aide Larry Mavhima, told AFP, saying he was expected to brief the media after landing at a military airport outside Harare.

Mnangagwa, 75, was sacked by the president on November 6 in a move that pushed infuriated army chiefs to intervene, triggering a series of events which led to Mugabe's ouster.

Mnangagwa fled the country after his dismissal, saying he would not return without guarantees of his safety.

His sacking was the result of an increasingly bitter succession battle with Mugabe's wife Grace, who had been pushing to take over from the ageing leader.

"My decision to resign is voluntary," Mugabe wrote in his resignation letter, expressing his "desire to ensure a smooth, peaceful and non-violent transfer of power."

China said on Wednesday that it respects Mugabe's decision to resign as Zimbabwe's president.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang made the remark during a regular press briefing.

Lu said that as a good friend of Zimbabwe, China appreciates the peaceful and appropriate settlement of relevant issue through talks and negotiations within the framework of law.

The ruling ZANU-PF party said Mnangagwa could swiftly be named interim president as the country charts a way through the turbulence.

"He will be the one who will be sworn in to be [interim] president for 90 days," said party spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo.

Mnangagwa is a long-time party loyalist who has close ties with the military, with critics describing him as a ruthless hardliner.