Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

Tension prevails as exiled Lesotho PM’s expected return Tuesday

Lesotho Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, (AP: File photo) Lesotho Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, (AP: File photo)
Agence-France Presse | Maseru (lesotho) | Posted: September 2, 2014 6:02 pm | Updated: September 2, 2014 6:07 pm

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 Tuesday said that the 75-year-old was unlikely to return to the country today 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.

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

The military denies carrying out a coup and says its raids were to confiscate weapons from police stations destined for “political fanatics”.

After three days of relative calm, swathes of Maseru plunged into darkness yesterday evening.

The sound of sporadic automatic gunfire echoed off the mountains from undetermined locations.

Ntsekele said he was unaware of reports of gunfire that rang in Maseru overnight.

Tensions between the military and the police mean there is no security presence on the streets, which emptied completely after dark.

“We don’t know what is happening. They are just fighting for their own things they don’t want to say anything to us,” said Lineo Mattadi, a 28-year-old upholstery factory worker.

Fearing a power vacuum and further violence, the United States ordered the families of its diplomats to leave, in case land borders and airports are closed.

By Maseru’s main military base nervous and heavily armed young soldiers questioned passers-by, fearing foreign intervention could be at hand.

That seems unlikely. Prime Minister Thabane request that the southern Africa regional bloc SADC to send a peacekeeping force troops has been rebuffed.

But SADC did force the country’s rival parties to agree to a deal that will see Thabane return and parliament reopen, after two days of talks in Pretoria.

SADC will also send an observer team to the mountainous African kingdom to monitor political, defence and security developments.

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