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25 Jun 2007 00:00
Politically motivated shootings targeting government ministers and senior ruling-party officials continued to wreak havoc in the Lesotho capital, Maseru, this week.
The most recent wave of attacks started on June 10, when armed men attacked bodyguards at three government ministers’ homes. Several days later opposition leader Tom Thabane’s house was attacked.
Then, on Wednesday night this week, the home of Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation Mathabiso Lepono was attacked by unknown gunmen.
Her bodyguards were able to retaliate and no one was injured.
While the government is saying that some sections of the opposition may have been involved in the attacks in protest against the alleged unfair allocation of parliamentary seats in this year’s election, sources within the opposition are distancing themselves from the attacks, saying they have nothing to do with them.
The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy won the general election earlier this year with 61 of 80 contested seats, but the allocation of 40 seats under the proportional representation system is being challenged by the opposition.
The shootings have instilled fear in the ruling party, forcing the government of the mountain kingdom to call an emergency meeting on Thursday.
The full report of the investigation into the attacks was due to be made public on Thursday afternoon.
After imposing a curfew on June 17, the Lesotho police service relaxed the times of the curfew from 6pm to 6am to 8pm to 5am to allow factory workers to report to work by 7am and knock off at 6pm.
This change was also a result of a protest by taxi owners, who said they would not work if the curfew was not called off.
The police told the media this week that the curfew is intended to reassure people and restore security.
Meanwhile, members of the police service and defence forces of Lesotho have denied reports that they are abusing human rights in their search for weapons in private households.
Senior Inspector Pheello Mphana appealed to all those who said they had been tortured by security forces to report to the police and open cases against the culprits.
The Lesotho Communications Authority has issued a warning to Harvest FM, an independent radio station, accusing it of stoking anti-government sentiment.
Opposition politicians and political commentators in Lesotho have criticised the government for imposing the curfew, saying it is an attempt to suppress civil rights.
Kelebone Maope, leader of the opposition Lesotho People’s Congress, said: “It was clearly a political decision to stave off any threat from the opposition.”
In 2002 the country introduced a mixed electoral system to allow smaller parties to get representation. The hope was that this would create a more inclusive and consensual system after elections in 1998 almost led to a military coup.
A stay-away to protest against the allocation of the seats was organised by the opposition in March and generally supported by the residents of the capital. SADC was asked to help mediate the situation and officials travelled to Maseru last week to help resolve the impasse.—CAJ News
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