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Lesotho PM shows no signs of leaving to defuse crisis

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has said he will not be told when to leave office, a national newspaper reported on Thursday, resisting efforts to defuse a political crisis with the offer of a “dignified retirement.”

FILE PHOTO: Thomas Motsoahae Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The independent weekly Lesotho Times -- the most popular paper in the mountainous kingdom -- quoted Thabane as saying he would not be pushed out before he is ready, apparently rejecting a deal between South African mediators and his own coalition government that he would step down.

“People who I don’t report to (are) setting the time for my departure ... They have no right to do so,” it quoted him as saying.

Thabane, 80, has been under pressure to resign owing to a murder case in which he and his current wife are suspected of assassinating his previous wife. They both deny this.

Last Saturday Thabane ordered soldiers and armoured vehicles onto the streets of Maseru to restore order against what he said were “rogue national elements”, prompting neighbour South Africa to step in to try to defuse tensions.

Mediators said on Monday they had agreed with the government that Thabane would go into “a dignified, graceful and secure retirement,” immediately.

Thabane’s spokesman, Relebohile Moyeye, declined to comment on Thursday on what the prime minister’s plans were.

Thabane has previously said he will step down at the end of July, but several senior figures in his own party and in the opposition want him out immediately.

In the interview, the paper quoted him as saying that he wanted to “ensure that all the plans that we have in motion are implemented before I leave,” without detailing what those were.

Pro and anti-Thabane factions within the ruling ABC party are in conflict over his future, aggravating political tensions.

“We still wish that he could leave as soon as yesterday,” Montoeli Masoetsa, spokesman of Thabane’s ABC party, said.

Lesotho has experienced several coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966, and its conflicts often suck in South Africa, whose central mountains encircle it and to which Lesotho supplies vital drinking water.

Gunmen shot and killed Thabane’s previous wife, Lipolelo, 58, on June 14, 2017, in a case that was never solved.

This year, police charged Thabane’s current wife, Maesaiah, with her murder, and also named Thabane himself -- though he has yet to be formally charged in court -- plunging Lesotho into its current crisis.

Reporting by Tim Cocks; Additional reporting by Marafaele Mohloboli; Editing by Frances Kerry