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Kagame opponent defects

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th August 2003 03:00 AM

Rwanda’s strongman Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame yesterday edged closer to victory after one of the presidential candidates pulled out of the race and declared her support for him

Rwanda’s strongman Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame yesterday edged closer to victory after one of the presidential candidates pulled out of the race and declared her support for him

By Grace Matsiko & Geoffrey Kamali in Kigali

Rwanda’s strongman Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame yesterday edged closer to victory after one of the presidential candidates pulled out of the race and declared her support for him.

The Rwanda national Electoral Commission (NEC) broke the news of Alivera Mukabaramba’s pullout on Rwandan State Television yesterday afternoon. Her spokesman, Dr. Christian Marala, confirmed the news. The elections are set for today.

“We have decided to isolate somebody who wants to bring about divisions among our population,” Marala said in an apparent reference to a statement attributed to Kagame’s main rival and former premier, Faustin Twagiramungu.

Twagiramungu is accused of calling for ethnic identity, a charge he has vehemently denied. He accuses Kagame of fomenting ethnic divisions and of using this to thwart his bid for the top job in Rwanda’s first multiparty presidential election since independence in 1962.

With the exit of Mukabaramba, 60, Kagame remains with Twagiramungu as the main opponent and Jean Nepomuscene Nayinzira, a former minister who is running as an independent. The latter has, however, not held any rally and runs a briefcase campaign office.

“Our very responsibility is to avoid getting into a Burundi kind of situation. We are out to support one candidate and that is Paul Kagame,” Marala said.

Sources said Mukabaramba, a newcomer to politics and the first woman to vie for the office, has in the past week been holding meetings with Kagame’s chiefs.

With a weak, ill-financed opposition working in his favour, Kagame is expected to win the elections. Local newspapers said Kagame may win by 90%.

Kagame has conducted a vigorous campaign, including the use of animated billboards, a helicopter and dancers, dwarfing his rivals.

Twagiramungu has largely remained quiet and out of public view in the last week, leaving many Rwandans guessing his next step.

Meanwhile, 12 supporters of Twagiramungu have been arrested, police said yesterday. A police spokesman, saying the activists had convened an “illegal meeting” added, “They were planning to co-ordinate acts of violence in all the provinces tomorrow. One of the men is a demobilised soldier.”

Twagiramungu, who has on several occasions complained of threats and intimidation targeting his supporters, told a press conference earlier yesterday that the 12 were arrested on Saturday evening, adding that two had fled.

His spokesman Ismael Mbonigaba said they were “provincial co-ordinators and their assistants.”

Some four million Rwandans are due to go to the polls in the country’s first presidential election since the 1994 genocide in which up to one million minority Tutsi and their Hutu sympathisers were killed.

In another development on Friday night, a Twagiramungu supporter was attacked and his candidate’s T-shirt torn to pieces in one of the few cases of violence since the campaigns started two months ago.

Witnesses said Emmanuel Buyinza was attacked by a suspected pro-Kagame mob at Nyamirambo, a city surbub, at 11:00pm local time.

Kigali Police said they had not heard of the attack but promised to investigate it.

“Had we not intervened he was going to be killed. His T-shirt with Twagiramungu’s portrait was torn to pieces,” Beatrice Kantengwa, a resident of Nyamirambo, a Kigali slum, told The New Vision.

Kantengwa described Buyinza’s action as brave.

“How can our people hold our placards when they are watched by the state agents? They have to fear for their lives. Failure to hold fair and free elections will bring shame to our country,” he said.

Kagame opponent defects

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