Maseru - An indefinite curfew has been imposed in Lesotho's capital Maseru after a series of attacks by gunmen targeting senior political figures and their bodyguards, police said on Tuesday.
The attacks, which include what opposition leader Tom Thabane described as an assassination attempt at his home, have further exacerbated tensions in the small mountain kingdom in southern Africa after disputed elections in February.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who held talks Tuesday with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town, acknowledged there was still some "unhappiness" about the allocation of parliamentary seats following the elections but insisted any disputes should be resolved by the courts.
"The (curfew) follows a series of attacks made on ministers and their bodyguards since June 11," national police spokesperson Inspector Pheello Mphana said in Maseru.
"About six ministerial bodyguards were attacked and disarmed by unknown gunmen and this has affected security in the country," he added.
The spokesperson said the attacks were all believed to be politically motivated, without giving further details.
Mphana said the house of the minister of communications had been shot at three times, while Thabane's home was also targeted by gunmen last Thursday.
"They wanted to kill me. A total of 33 shells were collected from the point where these gentlemen were shooting outside my yard," said Thabane.
The former foreign minister, who broke with Mosili last year to form the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, said the attack had taken place in the early hours of the morning while he was asleep.
He said he initially paid no attention to the shots as he assumed they came from the nearby army base but realised he was in danger when one of the bullets hit his mains supply and all the electricity went off.
"I just covered myself. I didn't peep through the window. I didn't open the door," he said.
"The only reason anyone would want to shoot me would be if they didn't like my politics."
Thabane criticised the curfew, saying that people who had inadvertently been caught breaking its rules had been beaten and assaulted by police.
Mosili however told reporters in Cape Town that the curfew was unavoidable although he indicated it would be relaxed to allow residents to get home by 8pm rather than 6pm. The measure was first introduced at the weekend.
"It was precipitated by... certain very unfortunate incidents in which the residences of ministers were being attacked," he said.
"These things happened under the cover of darkness, which is why the commissioner thought it necessary to contain these acts of crime and to impose a curfew."
The kingdom, one of the smallest and most impoverished countries on the continent, is entirely surrounded by South Africa.
Violence which erupted in Lesotho after a dispute over the 1998 elections, during which large parts of Maseru were torched, was only quashed with the intervention of troops from South Africa and Botswana.
The lead-up to February's elections was also marred by violence with a Dutch charity worker killed in an attack by unknown gunmen on the house of the country's trade and industry minister.
The prime minister, whose Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) won February's election comfortably, said he had hoped that the verdict of monitors that the vote was free and fair would have been respected.
"We thought we had closed that chapter. But this time around we were not so lucky.
"There is some uneasiness, some unhappiness about the way the proportional representation seats were allocated and that is in fact a matter taken to the courts of Lesotho." - Sapa-AFP