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Lesotho PM Thomas Thabane faces calls to quit sooner over murder case

Speculation was mounting Saturday that Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane could step down earlier than expected after he failed to show up in court to face charges of murdering his estranged wife.

Thomas Thabane's 58-year-old wife Lilopelo was gunned down outside her home in the capital Maseru in June 2017, just two days before he took office, following a bitter divorce battle. Sitting alongside the premier at his inauguration was Maesaiah Thabane, 42, who he married two months later. She was charged with murder earlier this month.
Thomas Thabane’s 58-year-old wife Lilopelo was gunned down outside her home in the capital Maseru in June 2017, just two days before he took office, following a bitter divorce battle.
Sitting alongside the premier at his inauguration was Maesaiah Thabane, 42, who he married two months later. She was charged with murder earlier this month.

The premier is accused of having acted in “common purpose” in the June 2017 killing of 58-year old Lipolelo Thabane, whom he was in the process of divorcing.

Thabane, now 80, had been due in court on Friday for a preliminary appearance where he was expected to be formally charged.

But he travelled instead to neighbouring South Africa for what his office said was “emergency” medical attention.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paseka Mokete, said on Saturday that the authorities had decided to wait for Thabane’s expected return on February 27 to resume his case after his lawyers said he had a sick note.

“While we admit that is quite coincidental, we shall have our own means to ascertain this state of affairs,” Mokete told AFP.

Police said Thursday that Prime Minster Thomas Thabane (pictured at the UN in September) is suspected of 'acting in common purpose' in Lilopelo's murder
Police said Thursday that Prime Minster Thomas Thabane (pictured at the UN in September) is suspected of ‘acting in common purpose’ in Lilopelo’s murder

He said no arrest warrant has been issued as yet and that “new arrangements” would be made for Thabane once he was “fit for an appearance”.

Thabane announced this week he would step down on July 31, bowing to pressure from members of his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, who accused him of hampering investigations into the killing.

But party officials said he could leave office even earlier.

“If all arrangements are in place before July he is ready to go, even tomorrow,” ABC secretary-general Lebohang Hlaele told AFP, adding that parliament would be meeting next week to work on the “finishing touches”.

“Anything is possible now as he might just wake up the next morning to announce his departure,” said Hlaele, who is also the prime minister’s son-in-law.

– No-confidence vote –

The main opposition party filed a motion of no confidence in the prime minister and his administration on Friday.

If Thabane loses the motion, he could either step down or advise Lesotho’s king to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

The country’s last three elections took place after a sitting prime minister lost a vote of no confidence.

Lipolelo Thabane, 58, was gunned down outside her home in the capital Maseru in June 2017. Her death shook the tiny mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa
Lipolelo Thabane, 58, was gunned down outside her home in the capital Maseru in June 2017. Her death shook the tiny mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa

Lipolelo Thabane’s murder sent shock waves through Lesotho — a tiny landlocked nation of 2.2 million with a history of political turmoil.

She was gunned down outside her home in Maseru just two days before her husband took office.

The accusations against the prime minister came after communications records from the scene of the murder included Thabane’s mobile phone number.

His current wife Maesaiah Thabane, 42, whom he married two months after Lipolelo’s death, is considered a co-conspirator and has already been charged with murder.

Thabane is no stranger to political unrest. He suffered a failed coup attempt two years after he was first named prime minister in 2012, and fled to South Africa.

After two years in exile, he returned to Lesotho in 2017 and won snap elections.

In his inaugural speech, Thabane described his wife’s murder as a “senseless killing”. He and Maesaiah — who at the time had the status of a “customary wife” — both attended Lipolelo’s funeral.

Hlaele said Thabane had the “right to stand before courts”.

“I dont believe that he would kill anyone,” Hlaele told AFP. “But that’s not for me to say.” AFP

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