Rwandan opposition candidate denied run for office


Rwandan opposition candidate denied run for office

KIGALI, Rwanda — An ethnic Hutu opposition candidate who hoped to run for president in Rwanda has been denied the right to appear on the ballot because of charges of denying the country's genocide, party officials said Friday.

Victoire Ingabire returned to Rwanda in January after 16 years, a return she says she made because the country needs an open discussion to promote reconciliation.

Ingabire's party and other opposition parties tried to demonstrate against Rwanda's electoral commission on Thursday, but police shut down the protest, calling it illegal. The opposition parties say they tried to apply for a permit but were never given a response from the government.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front political party and an ethnic Tutsi, submitted his papers Thursday to run in the election, which is scheduled for August. Ingabire was not allowed to submit papers, the opposition parties said.

In a statement Friday, the opposition parties FDU-Inkingi, headed by Ingabire, and the Democratic Green Party both said Rwanda's government has 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," the statement signed by Ingabire and Green Party leader Frank Habineza said.

The government has been lauded by the international community for its progress in women's rights and economic growth, but analysts say Kagame's government harshly cracks down on dissent. It's been 16 years since more than 500,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed in a genocide, but Rwanda still grapples with ethnic divisions.

Inabgire, 41, could face up to two decades in prison under charges of genocide ideology, or denying the 1994 genocide, a punishable offense in Rwanda. She had been represented by the American lawyer Peter Erlinder, who was arrested in Rwanda late last month when he arrived. Erlinder was held under suspicion of genocide ideology but was released a week ago on medical bail after heavy international condemnation for the arrest.

Erlinder on Thursday said he believes Rwandan authorities intended to make him disappear and never planned to prosecute him on allegations that he minimized the country's 1994 genocide. He said no U.S. Embassy officials knew he was in Rwanda when he was arrested May 28 because airline records somehow had been altered to show he had left the day before.

Associated Press reporter Jason Straziuso contributed from Nairobi, Kenya.