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May 27, 2017

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Mass demo cancelled as Lesotho faces a power vacuum

MASERU, Lesotho -- A mass demonstration in Lesotho planned for Monday has been cancelled after an apparent coup left the country leaderless and prompted regional powers to hold a crisis meeting.

Maseru district police commissioner Mofokeng Kolo told AFP a mass rally planned by forces opposing Prime Minister Tom Thabane had been scrapped.

"We received official word that the march has been postponed," Kolo said.

Thabane fled to South Africa in the early hours of Saturday morning, after being tipped off that the military was about to move against him.

The military denies staging a coup, a claim which few inside the country or abroad seem to believe.

After seizing weapons from key police installations and surrounding the premier's residence early Saturday, troops have returned to barracks.

The violence killed one police officer and injured four more.

Now with the prime minister in exile, the police disarmed and in disarray, and a battle for power raging inside the military, it is unclear who is running this small mountainous kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing — a rival of Thabane whose party was behind the planned demonstration and who is accused by opponents of being implicated in the coup — on Sunday left the country for talks in South Africa.

He told AFP that under the constitution the minister of public service, a member of his party, Motloheloa Phooko, was now in charge.

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

Media reports indicated that Phooko may also be out of the country.

South Africa, which encircles Lesotho and has often had a decisive hand in the country's politics, has appeared to back Thabane and has warned against the military or its allies seizing power.

Top diplomats from the Southern African Development Community meeting in Pretoria extended talks into a second day Monday, according to South Africa's foreign ministry.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the "military takeover" and called for respect for "democratic rule" ahead of the talks, according to his spokesman.

'I heard gunshots'

Intelligence officials have pointed the finger of blame at Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli for the attacks, seemingly acting after the prime minister tried to remove him from his post.

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