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Lesotho: Political crisis boils over

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 Army denies a military coup
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Lesotho’s protracted political crisis boiled over on August 30th, after the military laid siege to the police headquarters, jammed radio communication and took control of key government installations. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had suspended parliament in June, fearing that the MPs were going to pass a vote of no confidence against him.

The African Union (AU) warned on August 31st it would not tolerate an unconstitutional change of government in Lesotho, after Thabane fled to neighbouring South Africa, alleging a military coup against his government.

AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said she was “deeply concerned” with the ongoing developments and that the political parties in Lesotho should resolve their differences within the confines of the country’s constitution, the PanAfrican news agency (PANA) reported.

Regional power South Africa and the Commonwealth also warned the Lesotho Defence Forces that such action “shall not be tolerated”. The United States voiced concern at the security clashes and called for “peaceful dialogue”.

The military however denied it had seized power. The army’s operation was aimed only at disarming police which were preparing to provide arms to certain political parties, military spokesman Major Ntele Ntoi told the Africa News Network, ANN7 news channel. The military was acting on information that police would be arming demonstrators in a political protest planned for September 1st.

District police commissioner Mofokeng Kolo later said that one police officer died in the army attack.

A day after Thabane had fled, Deputy Prime Minister Mothejoa Metsing also left Lesotho for talks in Pretoria at the invitation of the South African president who currently heads regional bloc the Southern African Development Community, SADC’s security committee, ANN7 said.

 ‘Nobody is Protecting the People’

The turmoil is understood to be linked to a power struggle between Thabane, reportedly supported by the police, and Metsing, said to have the loyalty of the army.

Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party is in an uneasy coalition government with Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC). The LCD has denied allegations of involvement in the alleged coup.

However, the attempted assassination of a top military commander plunged the country into further unease on August 31st. Gunmen attacked the Maseru home of Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, DPC Kolo confirmed, deepening a seeming battle for control of the military. Mahao survived however, the Lesotho Times reported.

Mahao had been appointed head of the Lesotho Defence Force by Thabane shortly before he fled. The previous commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was accused of leading the alleged coup attempt against him.

Low-ranking soldiers contacted by AFP said it was unclear who was now giving their orders. They remained confined to barracks.

SADC on September 1st rejected calls by Thabane for the immediate deployment of troops to help restore order. Instead, an observer team would be urgently sent.

In Maseru, there were fears that the conflict was in no way over. The military was said to be rounding up policemen and stripping them of their uniforms. Some policemen had reportedly abandoned their posts and fled to South Africa.

“Police fear for their lives because we have intelligence that there will be an attack while we are in stations on duty,” said Assistant Police Commissioner Lehloka Maphatsoe.  “At the moment, really, there’s nobody protecting the people,” he said.

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