Gunfire heard in Lesotho, diplomats report apparent coup attempt

Posted at 08/30/14 3:30 PM

MASERU - Military units in Lesotho surrounded government and police buildings and gunfire was heard in the small mountainous southern African kingdom on Saturday, in what diplomats said appeared to be an attempted coup.

"Military police have surrounded State House and there are reports of gunfire," said one diplomat from the capital Maseru, who asked not to be named.

South African radio stations also reported that private radio stations were off the air in the nation, which is surrounded by South Africa.

Political tensions have been running high in Lesotho since June when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended the country's parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote amid feuding in the two-year-old coalition government.

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing had vowed to form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.

Neighbouring South Africa and the regional Southern African Development Community of which Lesotho is a member have warned the political rivals in the country that any unconstitutional change of government would not be tolerated.

Since independence in 1966, Lesotho has undergone a number of military coups. In 1998 at least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died and large parts of Maseru were damaged during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.