Rwanda's Kagame set for re-election amid repression claims

Rwanda votes Sunday in a presidential election that is already said to be a foregone conclusion, amid suspicious deaths of opponents of the regime and accusations of political repression, dpa reported

President Paul Kagame, 52, has run Rwanda since his Tutsi rebel group the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) kicked out the Hutu militia that slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide.

The small coffee-producing East African nation has blossomed under Kagame, becoming the most-stable state in the region, posting strong economic growth and performing well in education and healthcare.

According to Charles Murigande, education minister and one of Kagame's most-senior cabinet members, this record means Kagame is certain to be re-elected.

"I think it is due to his performance in the last seven years," he told the German Press Agency dpa. "Gross domestic product has grown on average by eight per cent over the last seven years."

But Kagame's opponents and international human rights groups say this growth and stability has come at a cost. Kagame has often been accused of shutting down unfriendly media, imprisoning journalists and brooking no political opposition.

In the run-up to the election, two opponents of Kagame were killed.

Jean-Leonard Rugambage, the editor of banned newspaper Umuvugizi, was shot in June by two men, who fled in a car.

The killing came as the online version of the paper raised questions over the government's involvement in the attempted murder of former army chief Lt Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa - an incident that led to South Africa withdrawing its envoy to Rwanda.

In July, the body of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, deputy leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party (DGP), was found almost decapitated.

The government said both killings were criminal in nature, but New York-based Human Rights Watch suspects the killing of Rwisereka was politically motivated.

Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom watchdog, accuses Kagame of systematically persecuting independent media and has called on the European Union to withdraw funding for the election.

Rwanda is a darling of the international donor community, which continues to throw money at the state despite lingering doubts over Kagame's commitment to real democracy.

DGP chief Frank Habineza, who like several other opposition leaders has not been allowed to register his party, is careful what he says about the murder of his deputy.

But Habineza, who says he has received death threats and believes the government is monitoring his phone calls and e-mails, is less circumspect when it comes to the elections.

"There is no opposition party. It is only the ruling party and its allies," he told dpa. "The government refused all opposition parties to be registered."

Kagame's opponents in the elections are Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, the deputy speaker of parliament who is running for the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal Party's Prosper Higiro and Alvera Mukabaramba of the Party of Progress and Concord.

But Kagame's critics say these parties are merely RPF fronts. Nobody expects any of the candidates to put up a serious challenge.

Victoire Ingabire, a Hutu who heads the opposition coalition United Democratic Forces, has also been unable to register to compete in the election.

She was arrested earlier this year on charges of genocide denial after she called on the government to recognise massacres of Hutus carried out by the invading Tutsi forces.

Her US lawyer, Peter Erlinder, was then jailed for three weeks on similar charges when he turned up to defend her.

"The accusations against me were only a strategy of the regime so that I cant participate in the elections," Ingabire told dpa, adding that she believed the army was essentially forcing people to vote for the RPF.

"How can you talk about a free and fair election under these conditions?" she asked.

However, Professor Chrysologue Karangwa, President of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), says the elections will be fair and denies that there was any political motivation behind refusing the registration of the two parties.

"I don't even know the political organizations ... but I suppose, if they are not accepted by our country, they did not meet the required conditions," he told dpa. "That is the only reason."

Just over five million Rwandans are registered to vote. Provisional results could come out within a few days and final figures will be released by August 17 at the latest, Karangwa said.

But even if the results take the full eight days to emerge, the wait will hardly be suspenseful

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