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article imageSnap polls under way in Lesotho six months after coup bid

By AFP     Feb 28, 2015 in World

A snap election began in Lesotho on Saturday, two years earlier than scheduled and six months after an attempted coup plunged the small southern African nation into crisis.

The country has been deadlocked since Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament in June last year to avoid a motion that would have seen him ousted after his fragile coalition government fell apart.

On August 30, soldiers -- reputedly loyal to the opposition -- attacked police headquarters, looting weapons and killing one officer.

Thabane described the violence as a coup attempt fueled by the opposition and fled to neighbouring South Africa, though both the military and opposition denied this.

There was little sign of the election in the city centre of Maseru as polling kicked off, since campaign rules called for all political advertising to be removed 24 hours ahead of the vote.

On Thursday afternoon, a crowd in the yellow T-shirts of Thabane's All Basotho Convention marched through the town with their candidate, singing and chanting as armed regional police stood by.

In schools and fields just outside Maseru, lines began forming outside polling stations before sunrise Saturday.

In Thabane's home district of Abia, just outside the capital, about 100 people were queued outside two green army tents in a field, ready to cast their votes when the polls opened just after 0500 GMT, police security standing nearby.

"I'm so glad today is here," said Peter Matete, 56. "I just want to see my country calm and peaceful."

A police explosives unit came by with sniffer dogs, checking the tented polling stations: Thabane was expected to vote at the same station later in the morning.

"If things could happen to my wishes, there wouldn't be another coalition government, but I don't think any party will get enough votes to rule alone," Matete said.

"I can't wait for Monday when the results are announced," said Senate Mokorotlo, 28, just ahead of him in the queue. "This is the end of every trouble."

Most voters would not name their choice, but Motselisi Khaebama, 49, proudly announced that her vote would go to Thabane.

"I like him personally, and I think he is capable of changing our lives. I want to give him a chance to finish what he started."

But the ABC faces stiff competition from the Democratic Congress, led by Pakalitha Mosisili, a former prime minister who held power from 1998 to 2012.

The DC won the most National Assembly seats in the 2012 election, but not enough for an outright majority, and it was overpowered by the ABC's coalition with two smaller parties.

According to local media, about 1.2 million people are registered to vote in the poll, which was negotiated by mediators from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional bloc.

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