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Rwanda Formally Welcomed Into Commonwealth

Members of traditional Rwandan dance troupe perform in London 8 Mar 2010 on day Rwanda was accepted into Commonwealth

Rwandan President Paul Kagame joined celebrations in England as Rwanda was formally welcomed into the Commonwealth Club of Nations.

Rwandan performers opened the Commonwealth Day ceremony with a traditional dance and Rwandan President Paul Kagame addressed the media. "I am pleased to be here on this special [day] as my country, Rwanda, is formerly welcomed into the Commonwealth," he said.

Rwanda was admitted to the Commonwealth in November 2009, during the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

Mr. Kagame says he wants Rwanda's youth to benefit from Commonwealth educational and training programs, and hopes his country will gain financially by being a member. "We hope to tap into the trade and investment opportunities that the Commonwealth offers, so that Rwanda can expand its economy and effectively participate in the global marketplace," he said.

The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organization of 54 independent member states. All but two, Mozambique and Rwanda, had a British colonial past or constitutional link to Britain.

Rwanda's bid to join the Commonwealth began in 2003.

In March the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative voiced concern over human rights and freedom of expression in Rwanda and said it was deeply concerned at the level of threats to opposition parties before presidential elections set to take place in August. But Rwandan officials said at the time the allegations were without basis.

Mr. Kagame said Rwandan rights will gain from being part of the international organization. "I think the Commonwealth is a family where there are many failings, and failings do not come from only one part of that family. Each family has its own failings, but when they come together then they share good practices to overcome those failings and that is why Rwanda sees it as very important to be part of the Commonwealth. There is a lot we are going to gain from it, there is also a lot we are going to contribute to the well being of the Commonwealth," he said.

After speaking with reporters, Mr. Kagame witnessed the hoisting ceremony of the Rwandan flag.

Rwandans sang on the grassy lawn of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London as the flag was raised.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who is Commonwealth chairman, and Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma also witnessed the ceremony.

Outside the ceremony, Britain-based Rwandans gathered to mark the occasion.

Many were singing in celebration. Claude Rutsinzi said he thought Mr. Kagame had done much to improve human rights in his country. "I do not accept at this stage really that the human-rights situation in Rwanda is bad, compared even to many many other countries in the Commonwealth," he said.

But others, like Ambrose Nzeyimana, said they did not think Rwanda should be eligible yet to join the Commonwealth. "We are not against Rwanda being part of the Commonwealth, but we are afraid that the regime of Paul Kagame cannot stand the democracy that the Commonwealth is expecting from its members," Nzeyimana said.

Mr. Kagame was also to join Queen Elizabeth for a multi-faith Observance in London.