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Lesotho premier to quit

As police lay charges in murder case.
Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Motsoahae Thabane. Image: Gulshan Khan, AFP via Getty Images
Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane announced he will resign by the end of July, yielding to pressure from his ruling party to quit as police plan to charge him along with his wife for murdering his previous spouse.

Thabane, 80, offered to leave office earlier if “all the requisite preparations for my retirement are completed,” he said in a speech Thursday in the capital, Maseru.

Maesaiah Thabane, 42, was indicted Feb. 5 for allegedly killing the prime minister’s second wife, Lipolelo, with whom he had been in divorce proceedings. Maesaiah wasn’t asked to plead in the case and is due to appear again next month. Thomas Thabane will appear in court on Friday as the “second accused” in the case, Deputy Police Commissioner Paseko Mokete said.

Lesotho, a nation of about 3 million people that’s encircled by South Africa, has been riven by political turbulence and military coups since 1986. Opposition riots in 1998 prompted its neighbour to deploy troops to restore order. In 2014, Thabane temporarily fled the country after accusing the military of overthrowing him. The head of the army was shot dead three years later, leading to the deployment of troops from neighbouring countries.

Lipolelo, 58, was shot by unidentified gunmen two days before Thabane was inaugurated as premier in June 2017.

Two years earlier, she had been involved in a legal battle with Maesaiah over who should be recognised as Thabane’s rightful wife. The case ended after the Lesotho High Court ruled that Lipolelo was the country’s official First Lady until the finalisation of her divorce from Thabane. Maesaiah, his wife by customary law, was barred from “performing any functions and exercising any rights” of a prime minister’s spouse, including receiving financial benefits.

Thomas Thabane’s departure is unlikely to bring an end to political instability and the odds are rising that the military could step in once again, Gary van Staden, an analyst with NKC African Economics, said last month.

While such an intervention would be problematic for other countries in the region that have sought to maintain civilian rule, it may be welcomed by citizens who’ve tired of political stalemates, infighting, frequent elections and unstable coalitions, he said.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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