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Lesotho power vacuum as PM flees


An armed soldier stands outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho (AP)

An armed soldier stands outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho (AP)

An armed soldier stands outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho (AP)

Police have been off the streets and out of uniform in Lesotho's capital, 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 neighbouring South Africa, foreign affairs minister Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa said. It was not immediately clear who was named to run the nation of about two 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 defence forces said 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 today 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.

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"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.

Mr 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 today meeting Mr Thabane and Mr Metsing, according to the Nelson Kgwete a spokesman for South Africa's Department of International Relations.

Political tensions have been high between Mr Thabane and Mr Metsing and within the coalition government in the tiny kingdom since June when Mr Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. Mr Thabane's All Basotho Convention party and Mr 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.

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