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Africa
Rwanda's Kagame vows free polls
President kicks off campaign against backdrop of assassinations and arrests.
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2010 20:18 GMT
Ingabire is one of the opposition politicians barred from the forthcoming elections [File: AFP]

Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, has begun campaigning for re-election in an exercise already tarnished by a string of assassinations and arrests.

Kagame said on Tuesday he was confident of victory on August 9 as arrangements for the burial of an opposition leader, murdered in the run up to the elections, got underway.

Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, vice-chairman of the unregistered opposition Democratic Green Party, was found dead, nearly decapitated, on July 14.

But Kagame, 52, who has ruled Rwanda since his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ended the 1994 genocide by the Hutu majority against his Tutsi minority, insisted the country was free to choose.

'Freedom to decide'

"Rwandan voters have the freedom to decide. But we have to seek their support and explain how we deserve their support," Kagame told reporters in Kigali, the capital, on the first day of the three-week official campaign.

With the main opposition parties already effectively out of the contest, few people - including Kagame himself - appeared to have any doubt on the outcome of the vote.

Carina Tertsakian, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch in London, said "unless something changes very rapidly, we'll be seeing a situation where the only candidate standing in the elctions will be the ruling party".

"There's been a whole series of incidents: the latest case is the murder of the vice-president of one the oppositions parties, the Green Party, and it remains to be seen what the investigation to this case reveals," Tertsakian told Al Jazeera.

"Unless something changes very rapidly, we'll be seeing a situation where the only candidate standing in the elctions will be the ruling party"

Carina Tertsakian, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch

"But there have also been a number of other cases, for example, the leader of another opposition party was arrested three weeks ago and remains in detention. There have been arrests of other members of his party and of another party, the FDU.

"The leader of that party is facing serious charges. And the result of all this is that none of the three real opposition parties or parties that Rwandans would consider to be opposition have been able to submit candidates in the presidential election."

Tertsakian said there were "serious question marks over whether they [elections] can be seen as free and fair".

But Kagame said he was "very confident that Rwandans will choose to work with RPF" hastening to add that he did not take anything for granted.

The RPF is planning to spend $2m on the campaign, all from "voluntary contributions", according to Christophe Bazivamo, Kagame's campaign co-ordinator.

'Political satellites'

Challenging Kagame are Jean-Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, the deputy speaker running for the Social Democratic Party, as well as Prosper Higiro, of the the Liberal Party and Alvera Mukabaramba from the Party of Progress and Concord.

Those three movements supported Kagame during the 2003 presidential election and are described by other parties as the RPF's "political satellites" - token opposition used to maintain a facade of pluralism.

The Unified Democratic Forces has not been officially registered by the authorities and Victoire Ingabire, its leader, has faced legal action since April after being accused of negating the genocide and abetting terrorism.

The Social Party faces similar problems and Bernard Ntaganda, its leader, has been behind bars since June 24.

Kagame said of Ingabire: "She associated herself with those who carried out the  genocide."

Several senior army officers have been arrested in recent months and one general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, narrowly survived an assassination attempt in exile in South Africa.

An opposition journalist who claimed to have uncovered the regime's responsibility in the attempted murder was shot dead days later.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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