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Monday, September 21, 1998 Published at 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK

World: Africa

S Africa gives up Lesotho mediation

The South African government has cancelled until further notice efforts to mediate in the political crisis paralysing the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

Allegations of election fraud have sparked weeks of unrest in the capital Maseru.

Demonstrators have persuaded civil servants to stay away from work and most banks remain closed.

Despite intense diplomatic efforts by South Africa, planned talks between the government and opposition have failed to take place.

Greg Barrow: South Africa pulls out as talks fail
The BBC's Greg Barrow, reporting from Lesotho, says foreign diplomats are saying they can no longer see any way out of the current impasse.

The three opposition parties behind the organised protests claim the ruling Lesotho Congress Party's landslide victory in May was the result of fraud.

An independent report published last week concluded there were ''serious concerns'' about the polls, but did not recommend they be declared invalid.

After a rebellion in the army 10 days ago, the military is under new leadership and has refrained from a major effort to restore order in the streets.

A foreign team of negotiators met separately with the government and opposition parties on Sunday to discuss security and election fraud issues.

About 1,500 protesters gathered at the palace in Maseru to await the outcome of the meetings, according to American diplomat Ray Brown.

Army clears streets with gunfire

On Sunday night, the army confronted opposition supporters and shots were fired to drive them off the streets.

Maseru, the site of two months of anti-government protests, was quiet on Monday, but state-owned Radio Lesotho was off the air.

Greg Barrow: Opposition are increasingly confident
Workers said opposition supporters had threatened to storm the radio station on Sunday and announce on air that the government had fallen.

In its report on the elections, the Langa Commission, composed of representatives of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, cited "serious concerns" about the polls.

It said seals on ballot boxes had been prematurely broken and material from different polling stations had been mixed together.

But on Friday the government said it would not step down.

South African Safety and Security Minister Sydney Mufamadi met Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and his cabinet ministers on Sunday, but refused to comment on the talks.

The leader of the opposition Basotholand Congress Party, Molapo Qhobela, dismissed as "unmitigated rubbish" the ruling party's claim that it could not meet opposition party leaders because of fears of violence.

King Letsie III, a figurehead monarch who the opposition parties want to dissolve parliament, has cancelled a visit to China because of the political situation.

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