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Exiled Lesotho PM's return after 'coup' uncertain

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Soldiers walks inside the Makoanyane Barracks in Maseru on September 1, 2014. Lesotho's exiled Prime Minister Tom Thabane is expected to return Tuesday following regional mediation talks in neighbouring South Africa. AFP PHOTO | MUJAHID SAFODIEN  

By AFP

Posted  Tuesday, September 2  2014 at  12:54

In Summary

Mr Thabane will probably face a vote of confidence when parliament returns - one he will likely lose - but his biggest challenge in the short term will be to end doubts about who controls the army

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MASERU

Gunfire and power cuts rekindled tensions in Lesotho's capital Maseru overnight, as the expected return to the mountain nation of the exiled prime minister appeared uncertain following an apparent coup.

An aide to Tom Thabane told AFP on Tuesday that the 75-year-old was unlikely to return to the country Tuesday as planned, after regional mediators brokered a road map to ease the country's political crisis.

"We are still in Johannesburg. There is a possibility that we may not arrive in Lesotho today," Samonyane Ntsekele said in a phone interview, without giving details on the delay.

Mr Thabane had fled across the border to South Africa before dawn on Saturday, as troops attacked key police installations and surrounded his official residence.

The military denies carrying out a coup and says its raids were to confiscate weapons from police stations destined for "political fanatics".

After three days of relative calm, swathes of Maseru plunged into darkness on Monday evening.

The sound of sporadic automatic gunfire echoed off the mountains from undetermined locations.

GUNFIRE

Mr Ntsekele said he was unaware of reports of gunfire that rang in Maseru overnight.

Tensions between the military and the police mean there is no security presence on the streets, which emptied completely after dark.

"We don't know what is happening. They are just fighting for their own things they don't want to say anything to us," said Lineo Mattadi, a 28-year-old upholstery factory worker.

Fearing a power vacuum and further violence, the United States ordered the families of its diplomats to leave, in case land borders and airports are closed.

By Maseru's main military base nervous and heavily armed young soldiers questioned passers-by, fearing foreign intervention could be at hand.

That seems unlikely. Prime Minister Thabane request that the southern Africa regional bloc SADC to send a peacekeeping force troops has been rebuffed.

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