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Military action leaves Lesotho in power vacuum

September 1, 2014
Associated Press

MASERU, Lesotho (AP) — Police were off the streets and out of uniform in Lesotho's capital on Monday, as the mountainous kingdom experienced a power vacuum after the military's actions over the weekend caused the prime minister to flee.

King Letsie III is appointing a Cabinet minister to run the country as both the prime minister and deputy prime minister are in neighboring South Africa, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa said Monday. It was not immediately clear who was named to run the nation of about 2 million that is completely surrounded by South Africa.

The military say they disarmed police in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane called the actions a coup attempt but Lesotho Defense Forces say they merely stepped in after getting information that police were planning to supply arms to participants in a demonstration.

There was little evidence of the conflict Monday in Maseru, but police at one of the attacked stations were walking in and out of the building in civilian clothes, not in uniform.

Experts expressed concern over who is running the country.

"Personally I don't know who's leading the country now that the leaders are outside the country. So you could say that there is probably a vacuum," said Motlamelle Kapa, head of political studies at the University of Lesotho.

Residents said they are worried about their businesses and the future.

"I am a businessman, I am working with guys from overseas, so now it is not easy for them to come here and invest . All the projects that I'm doing now they might not go on," said Hatahata Majora, who is self-employed.

Lesotho, though a poor country, is known for manufacturing clothes, its hydropower projects and the provision of water to South Africa.

Thabane said he fled to South Africa in fear for his life and to consult with regional leaders there. Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing was put in charge, according to provisions in the constitution, but he is now in South Africa to attend the talks.

President Jacob Zuma is meeting on Monday with Thabane and Metsing, according to the Nelson Kgwete a spokesman for South Africa's Department of International Relations.

Political tensions have been high between Thabane and Metsing and within the coalition government in the tiny kingdom since June when Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. Thabane's All Basotho Convention party and Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy formed a coalition with Thesele Maseribane's Basotho National Party after 2012 elections. Conflict has since simmered.

Lesotho has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.


Petesch contributed to this report from Johannesburg.



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