Rwanda votes in shadow of 1994 genocide

Rwandans were voting today in their first presidential election since about 800,000 people were slaughtered in the 1994 genocide.

Rwandans were voting today in their first presidential election since about 800,000 people were slaughtered in the 1994 genocide.

Paul Kagame, leader of the Tutsi-dominated rebel army which invaded to end the massacres, is expected to win easily.

But his victory is also expected to be marred by allegations his supporters have harassed the opposition.

First results are expected tomorrow and the winner will be announced on Wednesday, said Chrysologue Karangwa, chairman of the National Electoral Commission.

Whether Kagame or leading opponent Faustin Twagiramungu prevails, they will need to tackle mounting economic difficulties.

“We now have peace and security,” said Emmanuelle Bijogo, a 20-year-old in the capital Kigali. Now “the government needs to create more jobs for people”.

Bijogo said he planned to vote for Kagame because of the president’s solid record – and the sense that “if Kagame is removed, there will be trouble”.

Kagame, a minority Tutsi, led the rebels who in 1994 toppled the Hutu extremist regime and put an end to the 100-day slaughter.

Most of the dead were Tutsis and politically-moderate Hutus.

He then led the fight against remnants of the genocidal regime who attacked the country from bases in neighbouring Congo. At the same time, the government rebuilt schools and hospitals, nursed the economy back to health and started the process of reconciliation.

It is a record that has made Kagame popular among Rwandans.

But unemployment remains high and Rwanda is struggling to diversify an economy dependent on coffee and tea exports and foreign aid, which covers more than half of the country’s budget.

A number of Twagiramungu supporters said the lack of economic opportunities was a key factor in deciding who to vote for.

But all refused to give their names for fear of retribution by the authorities - a common refrain heard from Twagiramungu supporters throughout the campaign.

Though officials deny any harassment of the opposition, European Union observers and Western diplomats say at least some of the persistent reports of authorities threatening Twagiramungu supporters are true.

Twagiramungu, a Hutu, has stopped actively campaigning in recent days after accusing the authorities of seeking to discredit him with claims he has tied to stir up ethnic tensions to draw votes from Kagame.

Twagiramungu was a voice of moderation before the genocide, during which he narrowly escaped with his life.

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