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Lesotho military seize control of police HQ, jam radio stations


File photo of members of the Lesotho military, which seized control of the tiny African kingdom's police headquarters and jammed radio stations and phones in the early hours Saturday, a government minister and member of the ruling coalition says. Photo - AFP

Johannesburg: Lesotho's military seized control of the tiny African kingdom's police headquarters and jammed radio stations and phones in the early hours on Saturday, a government minister and member of the ruling coalition told AFP.

"The armed forces, the special forces of Lesotho, have taken the headquarters of the police," sports minister and leader of the Basotho National Party Thesele Maseribane said, describing a possible coup attempt in the small nation located in eastern South Africa.

But he insisted Prime Minister Tom Thabane's government was still in control and that the premier was "fine".

"The prime minister and myself, (we are) still the coalition government. The prime minister is still in power," he said, declining to say where the premier was.

"At four o'clock this morning (0200GMT) they were driving around the residence of the prime minister and my residence," he said.

"There have been some gunfighting since 4 (am) up until 7 or 8."

Maseribane said he fled hours earlier after being warned of an impending coup.

"The commander said he was looking for me, the prime minister and the deputy minster to take us to the king. In our country that means a coup," he added.

"There's still a lot of danger. People who have arms are running around Maseru."

He had no information about casualties.

"They've jammed phones, they have jammed everything," he added.

But users of the social networking site Twitter disputed this, saying they were still able to post updates.

Maseribane accused Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) of involvement in the move to seize power.

"There is some intelligence that he is part," he said.

The LCD earlier threatened to form a new government.

But Communications Minister Selibe Mochoboroane, an LCD member, denied any knowledge of what was happening in the capital.

"I've just heard now," he said, speaking from the countryside.

The government secretary was unreachable for comment.

A shaky coalition has governed the kingdom, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa, since elections two years ago.

Parties in the fragile coalition have agreed to continue working together, after emergency talks mediated by the Christian Council of Lesotho in June.

Coalition partners had been angered by Thabane's perceived aloofness, accusing him of operating without consulting other partners, and LCD had vowed to forge a new governing alliance to oust the prime minister.

In response the premier suspended parliament -- with the blessing of King Lesie III who has ruled the constitutional monarchy since 1996 -- allowing him to dodge a vote of no confidence.

Parliament was set to be suspended until February 2015, and elections are only due in 2017, but commentators earlier doubted the coalition would hold until then.

The power tussle earlier drew concern from powerful neighbour South Africa, which gets water and electricity from the kingdom.

Pretoria's foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said the country would issue a statement later.

Lesotho is no stranger to political crisis.

In 1986, South Africa's apartheid government instigated a coup to prevent the country being used as a base by the African National Congress and other activists.

In 1998, following election riots, South Africa and Botswana embarked on an ill-fated invasion that reduced the capital to rubble.

In recent decades there have been a series of attempted political assassinations.

But the last elections in 2012 passed off relatively peacefully, with three major parties forging a coalition.

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