Lesotho's prime minister Thomas Thabane accused his country's army of staging a coup and fled to South Africa, which condemned the military's action.

Gunfire was heard yesterday in Maseru, capital of the small southern African kingdom encircled by South Africa. Army units occupied police headquarters and surrounded the prime minister's residence, locals said.

It was not clear who was in charge of the mountainous state, which is home to two million people.

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Thabane dissolved parliament in June to avoid a no-confidence vote.