HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s incoming leader Emmerson Mnangagwa made a triumphant return Wednesday, telling cheering supporters that the country is witnessing “a new and unfolding democracy.”

“I appeal to all genuine people of Zimbabwe to come together,” Mnangagwa said. “We are all Zimbabweans … we need peace in our country and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

That was received enthusiastically by the crowd at the headquarters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis helped bring the downfall of Robert Mugabe, who resigned Tuesday after 37 years in power.

Mnangagwa said he had been in constant contact with military leaders during the tumultuous two weeks between his firing by Mugabe and his return to lead Zimbabwe. He will be sworn in Friday to serve Mugabe’s remaining term until elections next year.

He praised the military and commander Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, “who have been able to manage this process very peacefully.”

Speaking with his wife, Auxilia, by his side, Mnangagwa was flanked by two rows of security agents, who appeared alert to any possible security threat.

After emerging from hiding in neighboring South Africa, Mnangagwa met with its President Jacob Zuma and flew to Zimbabwe in a private jet.

The 75-year-old Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe after Mugabe fired him, leading the military to move in and kick off a series of extraordinary events ending in Mugabe stepping down amid impeachment proceedings.

The jubilant crowd in the capital, Harare, celebrated his first public remarks. Some carried signs with his image, suggesting a organization behind the festive turnout. Signs read “Our Hero, Our Hope” and “Welcome back, Our Hero.”

One man hoping to see Mnangagwa, Godwin Nyarugwa, said he was “very ecstatic” and that “we need change in this country, change in everything” after years of economic crisis. Nyarugwa said he had several university degrees but no job, a common theme among Zimbabwe’s well-educated population.

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