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Lesotho First Lady surrenders, charged with murdering PM's ex-wife

Maesaiah Thabane, wife of Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, appears in court charged with murdering his previous wife (Reuters)

The wife of the Prime Minister of Lesotho has been formally charged in court with murdering his previous wife.

First Lady Maesaiah Thabane has not yet been asked to plead. She surrendered to police on Tuesday for questioning.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has also been questioned. His ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane, was shot dead outside her home in the capital Maseru two days before his inauguration in 2017.

The couple were involved in bitter divorce proceedings at the time.

The attack was originally blamed on unknown armed men, but recent court papers filed by the country's police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, have raised further questions. An arrest warrant was issued for 42-year-old Maesaiah on 10 January after she disappeared.

She was "picked from the border" with South Africa on Tuesday after an arrangement between her lawyers and police, police spokesman Mpiti Mopeli told AFP news agency.

Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli told the BBC that she was being held in custody and would be formally charged in court yesterday.

It is not clear if Maesaiah will apply for bail at the court appearance. Mr Molibeli said police will oppose her bid if she does, as she is believed to be a flight risk. Maesaiah's lawyer, Rethabile Setlojoane, told the BBC he could not comment on the case. Eight others in Lesotho and South Africa are also reportedly facing charges over the murder.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane with First Lady Maesaiah Thabane. An arrest warrant for the first lady was issued the day she fled the country (AFP via Getty)

Last month, Thabane agreed to be questioned by the police. On the day he was questioned, hundreds of opposition supporters marched through the streets of the capital, Maseru, demanding his immediate resignation.

As pressure over the case mounted, Thabane announced his intention to resign on 16 January, but did not specify a date when he would do so.

Thabane framed the decision to step down as retirement, making no reference to the allegations against him and his wife.

Hindering investigation

The governing party and the opposition have accused the leader of hindering the investigation into his previous wife's murder.

Thabane and his current wife have not yet commented on the case.

Lipolelo was killed just two days before Thabane was sworn in as prime minister in June 2017. The 58-year-old had been living apart from her husband since 2012.

One evening while returning home, she was ambushed, shot several times at close range and died on the side of a road.

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