- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

KIGALI, Rwanda — Incumbent President Paul Kagame claimed victory early today in Rwanda’s first election since the 1994 genocide, with partial results showing him heading for a landslide win to consolidate his hold on power in the small Central African nation.

“Thank you for this victory,” Mr. Kagame told his supporters assembled in Kigali’s biggest football stadium after official partial results were announced after yesterday’s election.

With about half of all votes counted, Mr. Kagame had won 94.3 percent, the National Electoral Commission announced.

The figure was based on results from 51 of 106 voting districts in Rwanda following the vote.

The camp of the main opposition candidate swiftly cried foul, though, claiming a lack of transparency in the election process.

Mr. Kagame’s main opponent, Faustin Twagiramungu, got just 3.5 percent of votes counted, according to the early results, with a third candidate, former Cabinet minister Jean-Nepomuscene Nayinzira, winning 1.19 percent.

Mr. Kagame, 46, heads the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) — the former Tutsi rebel movement that fought to end the genocide.

He campaigned on a theme of national unity nearly a decade after up to a million minority Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers were slaughtered in 100 days of bloodletting orchestrated by the Hutu government.

“It’s a big democratic step taken by our country,” he said yesterday. “I am sure Rwandans like myself are happy that we’ve been able to make this huge stride.”

Mr. Twagiramungu, 58, is a moderate Hutu who returned from exile in Belgium to run in the election. Government media outlets accused him of dividing the nation.

Mr. Twagiramungu said earlier he was prepared to respect the outcome of the vote.

“If they choose someone else, I will applaud, as long as everything has gone transparently,” he said.

The head of the National Electoral Commission, Chrysologue Karangwa, declared the elections a success, saying at a press conference that only “two or three” isolated minor incidents were reported.

Mr. Twagiramungu’s camp had repeatedly complained of threats and intimidation against his supporters during the campaign.

His party, the Republican Democratic Movement, was banned, forcing him to run as an independent. On Saturday, 12 members of his electoral team were arrested, accused by police of plotting acts of violence across the country during voting.



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