Kigali (AFP) Aug 9, 2010
Rwandans voted Monday in a presidential election that incumbent Paul Kagame is poised to win, following a tense run-up marred by arrests and killings.
His supporters credit the former rebel leader with ending the genocide and ushering in stability and growth, but critics accuse him of undermining democracy and cracking down on opponents.
Some 5.2 million Rwandans were eligible to vote. Polling closed at around 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) and "went off without incident everywhere", electoral commission spokesman Pacifique Nduwimana said.
In the initial vote counting in the polling stations the name of Paul Kagame could constantly be heard with Kagame clocking up votes in their hundreds and none of his challengers making it into double figures, an AFP reporter said.
Kagame told reporters after voting that the process was "very democratic" and dismissed allegations the real opposition was de facto excluded from the vote.
"I think it has been very democratic," he said at Kigali's Rugunga school. "The people of Rwanda were free to stand for election -- those who wanted to -- and to qualify, so I see no problem."
"Some sections of the media seem to be reading from a different page," said Kagame, dressed in a white shirt and a dark blazer.
By mid evening several thousand RPF supporters had flocked into the national stadium and were being entertained by a singer and a DJ ahead of the arrival of Kagame himself.
RPF faithful were set to wait at the rally until results are announced. The party was already inviting people on Sunday to gather for a victory party.
Voters had turned up in some polling centres as early as 4:30 am and the electoral commission executive secretary Charles Munyaneza said polling was "very impressive" in the first hours.
There was never much doubt however that the 52-year-old Kagame, who won the 2003 election with 95 percent of the vote, would win a second term in office.
Kagame has been the de facto leader of this central African nation since his rebel group turned political party, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), routed Hutu extremists after the genocide which claimed 800,000 lives.
He was running against three candidates who all backed him in 2003.
Three new parties, two of which have not been registered by the authorities, were all excluded from the vote and have denounced the election process as a sham, describing Kagame's challengers as stooge candidates.
Kagame's government, thanks partly to generous international funding, has turned around the economy of a mountainous country with 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 over a period of six months "a worrying pattern of intimidation, harassment and other abuses" has emerged.
"The past few months have been marked by an increasing crackdown on the opposition. In this context it's not surprising people are afraid of speaking out and its not surprising the polls are taking place in a relatively quiet atmosphere," HRW researcher Carina Tertsakian told AFP from London.
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.
Patrick Karegeya, a former head of intelligence who fled into exile in 2007, last week called on Rwandans to rise up against Kagame and oust him from power.
"All those who want war, we'll give them war and they will regret it," Kagame replied two days later.
Kayumba and Karegeya are both former comrades-in-arms of Kagame, who were part of the close circle of leading figures of the Tutsi Ugandan diaspora that led the RPF rebellion, but many have now slipped off the Kigali scene.
Kagame has denied any involvement in the killings, argued that internal divisions were normal and told his regime's critics during a recent rally that they could "go hang".
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