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RWANDA: Main opposition candidate returns after years in exile

Kigali, 20 June 2003 (IRIN) - Former Rwandan Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu arrived in Kigali on Friday from Brussels, ending his eight-year exile to challenge President Paul Kagame in the first post-genocide elections.

Twagiramungu, a moderate Hutu, was prime minister in the first government installed by Tutsi rebels in Rwanda after the country's 1994 genocide. He resigned after 13 months and has lived in exile in Belgium since September 1995.

"I am happy to be back in Rwanda after eight years in exile," he told reporters upon his arrival.

He was received at Kigali airport by hundreds of his supporters who amidst tight security could not openly cheer for their candidate.

Twagiramungu, however, said that he would formally declare his bid for the presidency at a later date.

"I am still active in politics, but I will formally declare my stand for presidency at a later date, I cannot say much at the moment," he told reporters.

"There must be an ample atmosphere for Rwandans to freely come back to their country regardless of their status. Not every opponent of the government is a genocidaire," he added.

Meanwhile, the stage seems to be set for Rwanda's first post-genocide elections. The transitional national assembly has been busy debating two major laws that will pave the way for both presidential and parliamentary elections. The two laws include one governing the conduct of political parties during campaigns, while the other sets guidelines for both presidential and parliamentary candidates.

Rwandans also recently voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution that would enable multiparty elections slated for August. The elections are seen as a major test for a country groping for stability following the genocide and a four-year civil war that preceded it.

Twagiramungu has been quoted from his exile as saying that he would campaign on restoring national unity to the ethnically divided country and peace to a region beset by conflict.

He has also promised to implement economic measures that would improve the lives of the 60 percent of Rwanda's population living below the poverty line.

Twagiramungu has returned to find his political party, the Mouvement Democratique Republicain, dissolved for allegedly spreading politics of ethnicity and breaching national unity. However, he has said he would run as an independent if his party remained banned.

[IRIN's recent interview with Twagiramungu]


Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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