HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s government says a surprise statement by the country’s independence war veterans attacking President Robert Mugabe is traitorous and treasonous.

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In this April 18, 2016 file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers the key note address during Zimbabwe’s 36th Independence day celebrations in Harare. Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war made a significant break with President Mugabe for the first time on Thursday, July 21, 2016, 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. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

In the government’s first public response to the statement issued Thursday by Mugabe’s traditionally loyal supporters, the ministry of war veterans said late Friday it was investigating the origins of the statement and that the authors should be held accountable.

The government statement urged all war veterans to remain loyal to the 92-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power since the country won independence from white rule in 1980.

The veterans’ strongly worded statement, in which they called Mugabe dictatorial and said they will not campaign for him again, was their first significant break with the president, whom they have been quick to defend even with violence.

Representatives of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association were not immediately available for comment Saturday.

In Wednesday, July 20, 2016 file photo, thousands of Mugabe supporters carry his portrait while gathering at the party headquarters in Harare. Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war made a significant break with President Robert Mugabe for the first time Thursday, July 21, 2016, calling him dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

The surprise revolt by Mugabe’s aging corps of loyalists came 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.

The veterans’ group, whose members are in their 60s and older, blamed the southern African country’s economic crisis on “bankrupt leadership,” and it accused Mugabe of corruption: “This rot needs to be uprooted, and right now.”

Earlier this week, the world’s oldest head of state responded to the recent anti-government protests, telling critics to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.