Rwandan opposition figure denied run for president; group complains of crackdown

By Jason Straziuso, AP
Friday, June 25, 2010

Rwandan opposition faces crackdown ahead of vote

KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwanda’s electoral commission barred Hutu opposition figure Victoire Ingabire from running for president because she allegedly denied the country’s genocide occurred, officials said Friday as complaints grew of a government crackdown.

A global media rights group said the Tutsi-led government is crushing any opposition ahead of the August presidential elections. The group, Reporters Without Borders, said gunmen killed a top Rwandan editor in Kigali, the capital, outside his home late Thursday.

Jean-Leonard Rugambage was the deputy editor of the independent newspaper Umuvugizi, which Rwanda’s media regulator had already suspended from publishing for six months. Its editor fled the country in May.

“As the August presidential election approaches, the government is organizing a tightly controlled and monolithic electoral campaign in which all sources of criticism are being suppressed,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Friday. “This undertaking seems to have culminated in the ambushing and murder of this renowned journalist.”

In South Africa, authorities are investigating the shooting over the weekend of a former top Rwandan military commander who is living in exile in the country. Four suspects are scheduled to appear in court on June 29.

Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa and his wife were returning to their upscale gated neighborhood in northern Johannesburg when a lone gunman fired on him Saturday. He was shot in the stomach and is expected to recover.

Nyamwasa’s wife has accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the shooting, a charge the Rwandan government denies.

Nyamwasa and Kagame were once allies but have fallen out, reportedly because Kagame sees his former military chief as a political rival. Nyamwasa came to South Africa earlier this year.

For its part, the Rwandan government says it has linked Nyamwasa to three grenade attacks in Rwanda’s capital Feb. 19 that killed one person and wounded 30 others.

Ingabire, the Hutu opposition figure, returned to Rwanda in January after 16 years, saying the country needs to promote reconciliation.

Rwanda’s electoral commission on Thursday barred Ingabire from running in the presidential election. Her party joined other opposition parties to demonstrate against the commission Thursday but police shut down the protest.

Kagame, the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front political party and an ethnic Tutsi, submitted his papers Thursday to run in the election.

In a statement Friday, the opposition FDU-Inkingi, headed by Ingabire, and the Democratic Green Party both said Rwanda’s government prevented them from registering their parties and exercising their political rights.

“The ruling party, RPF, has indeed shown to the Rwandan people and the international community that it is too scared to compete with the real opposition and has rather resorted to getting stooge candidates to compete with,” said the statement signed by Ingabire and Green Party leader Frank Habineza.

The government has been lauded by the international community for progress in women’s rights and economic growth, but analysts say Kagame’s government doesn’t tolerate dissent. In 1994, more than 500,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed in a genocide by Hutus.

Ingabire, 41, could face up to two decades in prison under charges of genocide ideology, or denying the genocide.

Her American lawyer, Peter Erlinder, was arrested late last month when he arrived in Rwanda for suspected genocide ideology but was freed a week ago for medical reasons.

Erlinder says he believes Rwandan authorities intended to make him disappear. He said no U.S. Embassy officials knew he was in Rwanda when he was arrested May 28 because airline records had allegedly been altered to show he had left the day before.

Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

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