Cape Town — Lesotho prime minister Tom Thabane fled to South Africa after troops seized police stations in an alleged coup attempt in which one person was killed and an unknown number of others injured, according to news reports from the capital, Maseru on Saturday.
By early Saturday afternoon, Maseru time, the situation was still unclear. But troops had returned to their barracks in the wake of the removal of the country's military commander by King Letsie III, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported.
The BBC reported that Thabane had said in an interview that he had been "removed from control" by the armed forces. "I came into South Africa this morning and I will return as soon as my life is not in danger," he told the BBC. "I will not go back to Lesotho to get killed."
Earlier, officials and broadcasters said the army had taken control of police headquarters in Maseru and were patrolling the streets in armoured vehicles and on foot.
A member of Thabane's ruling coalition, Thesele Maseribane, said "armed forces, the special forces" had taken control. "They've jammed phones, they have jammed everything," he was reported as telling Agence France-Presse.
The Lesotho Times reported that when the army units pulled out of police headquarters, they "left anarchy in their wake as police had fled the building fearing for their safety." As a result a number of awaiting trial suspect had been turned loose.
The SABC interviewed a Lesotho army spokesperson who said the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force had been fired in a government gazette published late on Friday night, and a replacement appointed. The SABC said the new commander was Maaparankoe Mahao.
In a separate report, the Lesotho Times said Mahao had survived an assassination attempt at 4 am on Saturday morning after his home was attacked by "suspected armed soldiers."
Lesotho has been in political turmoil for more than than two months after Thabane, who heads a shaky, squabbling coalition government, suspended Parliament for nine months. It has experienced coups and upheaval on a number of occasions since independence in 1966: in 1970, when an administration facing defeat in an election seized power; in 1986 when that government was overthrown by the military; and in 1998 when instability led to a chaotic South African military intervention.