Maseru - Lesotho's opposition leader on Thursday vowed to lead a campaign of mass protests to force new elections if the government fails to agree to talks to settle a dispute over the allocation of parliamentary seats.

"We will take to the streets and exert more pressure on the government to hold fresh elections if they continue to fail to co-operate," Tom Thabane, leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, told reporters.

Thabane's comments come amid a continuing impasse between the governing Lesotho Congress for Democracy, which won most seats in a February election, and the ABC which is disputing the final number of seats.

The dispute has poisoned the atmosphere between government and opposition in the tiny southern African kingdom which has seen a number of shooting attacks on senior politicians since February, including one on Thabane's home.

Former Botswanan president Sir Ketumile Masire has been tasked by the regional Southern African Development Community to mediate an end to the dispute but only once legal challenges to the result are resolved.

Although the LCD held an initial meeting with Masire, it has refused to attend any follow-up meetings with his mediation team.

Under Lesotho's electoral system, 80 lawmakers are elected in constituencies and another 40 are chosen by proportional representation.

Following February's election, 21 of those 40 proportional representation seats were allocated to the LCD and its allies, a figure disputed by the ABC which nevertheless acknowledges that it lost the overall election.

"We have no problem with the election results. They have won but they should not take what is not due to them," said Thabane.

Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing dismissed Thabane's comments, saying the government would not be prepared to call fresh elections "because we have just had the election and the next edition is in 2012".

In 1998, an election dispute resulted in widespread violence in Lesotho during which large parts of Maseru were torched, and was only quashed with the intervention of troops from Botswana and its giant neighbour South Africa. - Sapa-AFP