LESOTHO

More chaos in Lesotho after attempt on top official's life

Attack on military commander follows apparent coup that forced prime minister to flee country

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:44am
AFP

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The attempted assassination of a top military commander plunged Lesotho into further turmoil yesterday, following an apparent coup that forced the prime minister to flee to neighbouring South Africa.

Gunmen attacked the Maseru home of Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, district police commissioner Mofokeng Kolo confirmed, deepening a seeming battle for control of the military.

The pre-dawn attack was reportedly unsuccessful, killing only a dog, but Mahao's whereabouts are now unknown. Mahao had been appointed head of the Lesotho Defence Force by Prime Minister Tom Thabane shortly before he was forced to flee to South Africa in the early hours of Saturday.

Previous commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was accused of leading a coup attempt against him, a charge the military denies.

Low-ranking soldiers said it was unclear who was now giving their orders. They remain confined to barracks.

As some life returned to Lesotho's streets yesterday, it was not clear who was in charge of this beautiful but poor mountainous kingdom of two million people. The size of Belgium, Lesotho is surrounded on all sides by South Africa.

Thabane is across the South African border in Ladybrand, unable or unwilling to return.

"I have been removed from control not by the people but by the armed forces, and that is illegal," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Mothejoa Metsing said he had left Lesotho for talks in Pretoria, the South African capital. "It is through the invitation of the South African president", who currently heads regional bloc the Southern African Development Community's security committee, Metsing said.

"There is no coup in Lesotho," he insisted.

In the absence of the premier and his deputy, constitutionally the Minister of Public Service Motloheloa Phooko was in charge of the kingdom, he added.

Phooko is a member of Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy party, which was in an uneasy coalition government with Thabane. The party has also denied allegations of involvement in the coup.

Amid the political turmoil, Maseru's residents stocked up on food and basic necessities.

"People are worried what will happen, because 'no work, no pay'," said fruit and vegetable vendor Kamele Pakisi.

Worshippers filled the city's cathedral as normal, but many feared for what lay ahead.

Some worry a mass anti-government demonstration that was planned for today could bring a new chapter of violence.