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Preliminary Results Show Kagame Winning Rwandan Presidential Race - 2003-08-26


In Rwanda, preliminary results of the country's first multi-party presidential election indicate the incumbent president, Paul Kagame, has defeated his main challenger, Faustin Twagiramungu, with more than 94 percent of the votes counted.

Tens of thousands of supporters of President Kagame began celebrating at Kigali's national stadium, hours before the announcement of the preliminary results early Tuesday. The stadium erupted in wild celebrations as Rwandan radio announced Mr. Kagame's overwhelming lead over his chief opponent, Faustin Twagiramungu.

Nearly half of Rwanda's eight million people went to the polls on Monday to participate in the country's first presidential election since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962.

Paul Kagame, who put an end to the bloody genocide of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists in 1994, had been widely expected to win. In the nine years he has been in power, Mr. Kagame has been credited with rebuilding the country's economy and starting the process of reconciliation between the two ethnic groups.

But critics of the Rwandan leader say he has also tried to stifle political opposition, often accusing potential rivals of stirring up ethnic tension.

The issue surfaced again during the race for the presidency. The campaign was badly marred by reports that Mr. Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front party intimidated and illegally detained supporters of his main Hutu rival, Mr. Twagiramungu.

Mr. Kagame, in turn, accused Mr. Twagiramungu of highlighting ethnic differences in order to win votes. About 85 percent of Rwanda's population is made up of Hutus.

Despite the bitter campaign, international observers on hand to monitor the election, say the process went smoothly at most of the 1,400 polling stations across the country.

There have been no reports of violence.

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