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Fresh unrest in Lesotho thwarts PM's return

Tom Thabane fled to South Africa on Saturday amid coup rumours, and was set to return to the country to reclaim power.

Last updated: 02 Sep 2014 10:02
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The military and a rival political party have been accused of trying to oust the 75-year-old leader [AFP]

Gunfire and power cuts rekindled tensions in Lesotho's capital Maseru overnight, as the expected return to the mountain nation of the exiled prime minister appeared uncertain following an apparent coup.

An aide to Tom Thabane told AFP on Tuesday that the 75-year-old was unlikely to return to the country on Tuesday as planned, after regional mediators brokered a road map to ease the country's political crisis.

"We are still in Johannesburg. There is a possibility that we may not arrive in Lesotho today," Samonyane Ntsekele said in a phone interview, without giving details on the delay.

The prime minister fled across the border to South Africa before dawn on Saturday, as troops attacked key police installations and surrounded his official residence.

The military and a rival political party -  the Lesotho Congress for Democracy - have been accused of trying to oust the 75-year-old, a charge they vehemently deny.

Political tensions have been running high in the landlocked country since June when Thabane suspended the country's parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote amid feuding in the two-year-old coalition government.

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing had vowed to form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.

South African President Jacob Zuma and representatives of the regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC), had brought together leaders from Lesotho's three ruling coalition parties to resolve their differences.

It was reported earlier that the SADC will send an observer team to the mountainous African kingdom to monitor political, defence and security developments.

The country's police force is in disarray after being forcibly disarmed by troops, and the military is seemingly beyond political control, leaving ordinary people fearing for the future.

Power vacuum

In an attempt to fill that vacuum Motloheloa Phooko, a minister from the LCD, raised eyebrows on Monday by saying he was acting prime minister thanks to "cabinet protocol".

The confusion continued on Monday evening when gunshots were heard in Maseru by AFP reporters though it was initially unclear if this was related to the ongoing tensions.

The political situation may be fraught, but Thabane's biggest task may be to end doubts about who controls the army.

Intelligence sources have claimed that Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, commander of the Lesotho Defence Forces, orchestrated the coup when ordered by Thabane to relinquish his command.

Kamoli was to be replaced by Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, who fled the country on Saturday after a pre-dawn assassination attempt.

On Monday, military spokesman major Ntlele Ntoi insisted there was no doubt who was in command of the armed forces.

"Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli is the one who is in charge," he said categorically, stating that Mahao faces a court martial for conduct unbecoming an officer.

Speaking in Pretoria, Mahao labelled Kamoli a "renegade general".

Mahao claimed that Kamoli was reluctant to relinquish his post for fear of prosecution.

When asked who is in charge of the military, acting prime minister Phooko said "that is a difficult question."

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