JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The king of Lesotho is taking action to fill a power vacuum after the military's actions over the weekend caused the prime minister to flee the mountainous African country.
King Letsie III is appointing a Cabinet minister to run the country as both the prime minister and deputy prime minister are in neighboring South Africa, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa said Monday. It was not immediately clear who would be named to run the nation of about 2 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 Defense Forces say they only stepped in after getting information that police were planning to supply arms to participants in a demonstration.
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.
"In our constitution, the recent prime minister, if he's outside or indisposed, the deputy prime minister automatically takes over. In the event that both are outside of the country, in accordance with the constitution, the king appoints a minister to take over," said Tsekoa, the foreign minister. "Our leaders are in the middle of talking and defining the way forward."
President Jacob Zuma is meeting on Monday with Thabane and Metsing, according to the Nelson Kgwete a spokesman for South Africa's Department of International Relations.
A third coalition party leader, Thesele Maseribane, is also in South Africa for meetings with representatives from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The countries are a part of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, which is trying to find a resolution to Lesotho's crisis.
Political tensions have been high between Thabane and Metsing and within the coalition government in the tiny kingdom since June when Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. Thabane's All Basotho Convention party and Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy formed a coalition with Maseribane's Basotho National Party after 2012 elections but since then conflict has simmered.
"We must remove whatever obstacles that might come before us. We have to mend our relationship and continue to develop our country," Thabane told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
There was little evidence of the conflict Monday in Maseru. The demonstration had also been called off.
The landlocked country's first coalition government was formed in 2012 after competitive elections that ousted the 14-year incumbent Pakalitha Mosisili, who peacefully stepped down from power.
Lesotho has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.
The constitutional government was restored in 1993, after seven years of military rule. Violent protests and a military mutiny in 1998 came after a contentious election prompted intervention by South African military forces. Political stability returned after constitutional reforms, and parliamentary elections were peacefully held in 2002.