30 August 2014

Lesotho Army Denies Prime Minister's Coup Accusation

Photo: Sarah Fretwell/UN
Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

The prime minister of Lesotho has accused the country's army of a coup, something the military has denied. Soldiers in the small African kingdom had seized control of the police headquarters.

Residents and officials reported hearing gunfire in the Lesotho's capital Maseru early on Saturday, with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane accusing the military of staging a coup against him.

"It is a military coup because it is led by the military. And the military are outside the instructions of the commander in chief, who is myself," Thabane told South Africa's eNCA TV station by phone, adding that he would be meeting with South African officials to discuss the situation.

The military had occupied the headquarters of the police and surrounded the premier's residence. However, the military has denied attempting a coup. Thabane told the BBC that he had fled his home and sought refuge in South Africa. He said he would return to Lesotho "as soon as I know I am not going to get killed."

"There is nothing like that, the situation has returned to normalcy... the military has returned to their barracks," military spokesman Ntlele Ntoi told the Reuters news agency, adding that one soldier and four police had been injured.

Ntoi added that the military acted on reports that the police were planning to arm political factions ahead of an anti-government demonstration planned for Monday - so the army disarmed the police to avoid bloodshed.

There were reports of radio and phone networks being blocked.

Simmering tensions

Political tensions have been high during recent months in the Kingdom of Lesotho, a small mountainous nation bordered on all sides by South Africa and home to about two-million people.

The fragile coalition which has been governing the country for the past two years has been under strain after Prime Minister Thabane, leader of the All Basotho Convention party, suspended parliament in June to dodge a no-confidence vote. Partners in the coalition had expressed frustration with Thabane who they accused of not consulting them.

According to diplomats, the police force is mostly loyal to Thabane, the army mostly loyal to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing. Metsing, who leads the coalition partner Lesotho Congress for Democracy, had vowed to form a new coalition to oust Thabene.

Its current king, Letsie III, came to power again in 1996 after previously reigning from 1990-1995 while his father, Moshoeshoe II, was in exile. Most of his duties are ceremonial in nature.

Lesotho, which is a key supplier of hydropower to South Africa, has undergone several military coups since its independence from Britain in 1966.

se/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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