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Violence threats scare workers

Lesotho’s political tensions escalated this week when an anonymous group distributed leaflets calling on Basotho workers to stay away from work on Wednesday to support demands for the holding of elections and the establishment of a government of national unity.

Political observers told IRIN that threats of violence against workers who fail to heed the stayaway forced some of them to stay at home. The threats in the leaflet included the burning of homes of those who did not support the call.

Puseletso Salae - an activist with an NGO running employment creation schemes for retrenched Lesotho miners - said it was difficult to assess the extent of support for the stayaway call. “Those workers who stayed at home did so out of fear,” Salae told IRIN on Wednesday.

He said many businesses also closed their doors because of intimidation. “Rumours were circulating in the capital, Maseru that businesses were burned down in other parts of the country. This led to businesses that had opened their doors on Wednesday to close early and send their workers home.”

Salae also confirmed reports that joint police and army patrols were deployed in Maseru and district towns in response to threats of protest action by the anonymous group. “However, threats of protest marches did not materialise,” Salae said. He added, though, that the situation in the country was tense.

Meanwhile, leaders of seven political parties distanced themselves from the stayaway call, and called on their members to support peaceful efforts being pursued in the multiparty Interim Political Authority (IPA). “The peaceful efforts being followed in the IPA appear, in some measure, to be succeeding. We appeal to our followers to support these peaceful moves so that elections can be held in good time,” the parties said in a statement signed by their leaders.

At the same time, members of a Commonwealth team were reported to be holding meetings on Wednesday with members of the IPA and government representatives to try and broker agreement on the holding of new elections.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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