LESOTHO: Curfew imposed after attacks

Monday, June 18, 2007

A curfew has been imposed in Maseru, capital of the kingdom of Lesotho, after "politically motivated" attacks on the homes of three government ministers and an opposition leader, according to a government official.

"The curfew was imposed on 17 June after the bodyguards posted at three ministers' homes were disarmed by unknown men on 10 June," said Pheello Mphana, a police spokesman. Later in the week, shots were fired at the home of Tom Thabane, leader of the main opposition All Basotho Convention party. "No one was injured," he added.

Mphana described the situation in the capital as "tense" but "under control". The army had set up roadblocks and were patrolling the city, he added.

Thabo Thakalekoala, the Maseru-based regional chairman of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, a watchdog organisation, said political turmoil had gripped the Lesotho parliament in recent weeks, with disagreements over the allocation of seats under the proportional representation system.

The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party romped to power in general elections earlier this year, amid opposition claims of impropriety.

Officials from the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security flew to Maseru to resolve the issue last week.

Kelebone Maope, leader of another opposition party, the Lesotho Peoples' Congress, who previously served as deputy prime minister in the LCD-led government, said the SADC team had so far been unable to resolve the crisis. "The meeting will continue next week, when experts will be brought in to verify if the seats were allocated correctly."
The ruling LCD won 61 of the directly contested 80 seats, but the distribution of 40 seats under the proportional representation system is being disputed.

A mixed electoral system was introduced in 2002 to ensure representation for smaller parties, to create a more inclusive system that would lead to more consensual, nation-building politics, after disputed elections in 1998 led to a military coup which was stopped by military intervention.

Fourteen political parties participated in the recent ballot, some of which would have been consigned to the political wilderness in a first-past-the-post system, but have been able to enter parliament under the new electoral formula.

Attempt to suppress civil rights ?

Maope and Prof Francis Makoa, head of the department of political science at the National University of Lesotho, said they were not entirely convinced of the need to impose a curfew in Maseru.

"It [the imposition curfew] was clearly a political decision to scare off any potential threat from the opposition," Maope alleged.

"I think it is an attempt to suppress the civil rights of the opposition," Makoa suggested.

People had phoned radio programmes to complain of state-sponsored harassment by the army deployed in Maseru. "I was also checked at a road-block on Friday morning after the curfew hours," said Makoa.

Mphana confirmed that they had received reports of alleged harassment and were investigating the claims.


Source: IRIN