Rwandan opposition leader appears in court

Rockets intended for Israel hit Jordan. Sudan poll results delayed amid fraud allegations. Blasts shake tense Thai capital. All this and more in today's briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
22 April 2010

Victoire Ingabire, leader of Rwandan opposition party the United Democratic Forces party was arrested yesterday on charges of denying the 1994 genocide and collaborating with a terrorist organisation. Ingabire later appeared before Gasabo Intermediate Court to answer the charges.

Ingabire is accused of promoting “genocide ideology”, denial of the genocide and ethnic divisionism, all considered crimes in Rwandan law since the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 Tutsis and opposition Hutus dead. Most damningly, according to the pro-government New Times newspaper, the prosecution are also claiming that Ingabire has been in “constant contact” with Rwandan rebel groups based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and regularly visited a rebel commander in Kinshasa while living in Europe. In a recent interview with Radio Netherlands, a spokesman for the Rwandan prosecutor general also claimed that Ingabire is attempting to establish an anti-government militia with the aim of destablising the country.

Ingabire recently returned to Rwanda after sixteen years in Europe, to begin campaigning for the August presidential elections. Since arriving in the country, she has come under sustained attack from Rwandan politicians and pro-government press. She and an aide were attacked by a mob in Kigali on 3 February, a move described by New York-based Human Rights Watch as likely to have been premeditated.

The United Democratic Forces Support Committee, based in Brussels, has said it “condemns in the strongest terms possible” Ingabire’s arrest. In the same statement, the committee also said thar the arrest “will not deter her determination”.

The openSecurity verdict: Despite Rwanda’s favourable position as an investment destination, Ingabire’s arrest seems to confirm a worrying trend in Rwandan politics. Although most commentators are loathe to use the word ‘authoritarian’, it does seem that the government is using laws criminalising “genocide ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” – intended to avoid a repeat of the 1994 genocide – to discredit and undermine any opposition and consolidate its own position. In recent months, analysts and human rights organisations have expressed concern about intimidation of opposition leaders in the run-up to August’s presidential elections. The incumbent president, Paul Kagame, head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, won 95% of the vote in 2003 elections. Kagame, president since 2000, has been in a position of de facto power since July 1994, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front finally brought the genocide to an end.

Although Rwanda scored relatively well in the recent Global Integrity Report 2009, many commentators remain concerned that Rwanda might be sliding towards “one-man-rule.” Rwanda-watchers are concerned about the extent to which “the Rwandan government tightly controls political space.” As one analyst pointed out, “the Rwandan Patriotic Front dominates political life in Rwanda.”

Ingabire’s arrest demonstrates the government's determination to deny opposition parties a chance to contest the forthcoming elections. The nine formally registered political parties are not expected to put up much of a fight, and may well simply continue to endorse Kagame’s rule. Ingabire and her party, who have made no secret of their intention to contest the elections, have yet to be granted formal registration as a political party. Her arrest appears to be another attempt to discredit the United Democratic Forces, and deny it registration. But these tactics are not reserved for Ingabire. Rwanda’s Green Party, also hoping to contest the election, has thus far been refused registration. Bernard Ntaganda, leader of the Ideal Social Party, has previously been called before the senate to answer accusations of propagation of genocide ideology.

This intimidation and repression is not confined to the opposition. The media has also been subject to a government crackdown, which has seen two newspapers, vocal in their criticism of the government, the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the military, recently suspended. After their two editors were sentenced to prison time, many other journalists have fled the country. The move has been described by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as “robbing Rwandan voters of crucial alternative voices during the presidential election campaign”.

Kagame and his government are keen to keep Rwanda at the forefront of investment and technological development in Africa, but as researcher Norah Mallaney asks, can Rwanda’s democratisation keep pace with its thirst for economic development?

Rockets intended for Israel hit Jordan

Two Katyusha rockets landed in Jordanian territory early this morning. One rocket struck near the coastal town of Aqaba while the other landed in the sea. No casualties have been reported.

It was initially thought that the rockets were fired from Jordan, but after a Jordanian investigation, Israeli military sources now believe the rockets originated from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. According to Israeli press, the rockets were aimed at the resort town of Eilat, but no firm evidence for this suspicion has been cited, and no militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nine days ago, Israeli security agencies issued a kidnap warning, urging Israeli citizens holidaying in Sinai to leave immediately.

Egyptian security sources have denied that any rocket was launched from Sinai.

Sudan poll results delayed amid fraud allegations

Results of recent landmark elections in Sudan, due to be announced today, have been postponed. The results of the polls, which were held from 11 to 15 April and have been described as among the most complex elections ever held, have been delayed due to technical problems and delays in vote counting, according to a statement by the national elections commission.

More worryingly, the elections have been marred by allegations of serious fraud and electoral irregularities. Today, southern opposition groups accused soldiers and officials of tampering with ballots, stuffing ballot boxes, and intimidating polling agents during vote counting.

According to opposition candidates, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan People's Liberation Army – the south’s dominant political party and the southern army respectively – have used widespread intimidation tactics. These allegations have been denied by the former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, who pulled out of the race citing vote rigging by the ruling National Congress Party. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army also denies any involvement in intimidation. However, a British team of election observers said on Wednesday that it had evidence of Sudan People’s Liberation Army intimidation in the south.

In the north, most parties boycotted the elections before they began. Those that took part have rejected the results, which indicate an overwhelming win for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, alleging ballot rigging.

International observers, including the US government, condemned the “irregularities” in the elections. However, the White House remains committed to supporting reconciliation between north and south Sudan, as part of a peace deal agreed in 2005.

Blasts shake tense Thai capital

At least four explosions have rocked Bangkok’s central business district, not far from the area in which government security forces are at a stand-off with anti-government Red Shirt protesters. At least six people have been injured, according to witnesses, although one unverified report puts the total at forty injured.

The blasts follow government warnings that time is running out for protesters to leave the capital. The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although a military spokesman said M-79 grenades were thought to have caused at least three of the explosions.

The protesters have occupied parts of the Thai capital since 12 March, demanding that the government dissolve parliament and call immediate elections. Mostly poor labourers, pro-democracy activists and supporters of ouster former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Red Shirts question the legitimacy of Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government.

Although the government has repeatedly said it wants a negotiated peaceful resolution to the situation, an attempt earlier this month to move protesters from the city left at least 25 people were left dead and 800 injured, in Thailand’s worst political violence in eighteen years.

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