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Kagame set for landslide in Rwandan presidential vote

by Staff Writers
Kigali (AFP) Aug 10, 2010
Rwandan President Paul Kagame headed for a landslide victory Tuesday after early results of a presidential election gave him a seemingly unassailable lead, sparking wild celebrations in the capital.

An unregistered opposition party alleged irregularities in Monday's vote and observers from the Commonwealth deplored a "lack of critical opposition voices" during a campaign marred by arrests and killings.

Tens of thousands of Kagame supporters packed Kigali's main football stadium for raucous festivities combining fireworks with reggae that lasted all night.

Rwanda's poll chief Chrysologue Karangwa announced overnight that Kagame won 92.9 percent of the votes cast in 11 out of Rwanda's 30 polling districts counted so far.

Supporters of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) walked home at daybreak and final results confirming the incumbent's victory were still not forthcoming more than 24 hours after polling stations closed.

Kagame's nearest challenger, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), was running a distant second with 4.9 percent. The other two candidates had 1.5 and 0.7 percent respectively.

A triumphant Kagame thanked the crowd for "making the right choice" and handing him another seven-year term, which is also supposed to be his last.

"We will continue to work for our country to be always first," he said at the stadium. "This is your victory and the victory of all Rwandan people."

Earlier in the rally officials announced Kagame had won 96.7 percent of the votes of Rwandans living abroad, sending the tens of thousands of fans in attendance into a frenzy.

Rwanda's poll chief had initially said results for all 30 districts would be available early Tuesday.

The former rebel's supporters credit him with ending Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which claimed some 800,000 lives, and ushering in stability and growth, but critics accuse him of undermining democracy and muzzling opponents.

Kagame insisted Monday that the election had been democratic and dismissed allegations the real opposition was de facto excluded from the vote.

Observers from the Commonwealth, of which Rwanda became a member last year, said the campaign was marked by "a lack of critical opposition voices."

"A number of opposition parties had earlier stated their intention to stand, but faced either legal or administrative problems, which resulted in their non-participation. Each case appears to be different, but the overall impact is a concern," the observers said in a statement.

Three new parties set up to challenge his rule were excluded from the election. They denounced the poll as a sham.

One of them, Unified Democratic Forces (UDF), claimed irregularities, saying that in some areas of the north and west voters had their voting cards "seized by the local authorities" on the eve of the poll. The cards were handed back just before the vote with "Voted" marked on them, UDF alleged.

Electoral commission officials have reported no major incidents.

Kagame, 52, has been the de facto leader of this central African nation since his Tutsi-dominated rebel group turned political party, the RPF, routed Hutu extremists after the genocide.

Kagame's government, thanks partly to generous international funding, has turned around the economy despite few natural resources, focusing on services and new technology as well as modernising agriculture.

But critics say that is just a facade for a repressive regime.

Human Rights Watch noted that in the six months ahead of the election campaign "a worrying pattern of intimidation, harassment and other abuses" emerged.

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 evidence of the regime's involvement in the attempted murder was shot dead days later.

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