Lesotho government agrees “dignified retirement” for PM

Lesotho prime minister Thomas Thabane

MASERU (Reuters) – Lesotho’s government has agreed with South African mediators and political parties to implement a “dignified retirement” for prime minister Thomas Thabane, a joint statement said on Monday, signalling stepped up efforts to end a political crisis.

Thabane has been under pressure to resign owing to a murder case in which he and his current wife are suspected of being involved in the assassination of his previous wife, charges which both of them deny.

“The coalition government of the Kingdom of Lesotho commits to effecting the implementation process or modalities for the dignified, graceful and secure retirement of the right honourable prime minister,” a joint statement said.

Thabane had pledged to step down at the end of July, but South African mediator Jeff Radebe told journalists in Lesotho’s capital Maseru that “the timeline is immediate,” for his leaving office.

Neither Thabane nor his spokespeople were immediately available for comment on whether or when he plans to quit as prime minister of Lesotho, a tiny kingdom embedded in a South African mountain range.

South African diplomats stepped in to try to calm tensions on Sunday, a day after Thabane sent soldiers and armoured vehicles onto the streets of Maseru to restore order against what he said were “rogue national elements”.

Though small and with a population of not much more than 2 million, Lesotho’s political upheavals often draw in its bigger neighbour, South Africa, for whom the kingdom’s mountains are an essential source of running water.

Lesotho has experienced several coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966, and in 1998 at least 58 people and eight South African soldiers died and parts of Maseru were damaged in a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.