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Rwanda Heads To The Polls As Kagame Makes Fourth-term Bid

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Rwandans will vote in elections on Monday, with President Paul Kagame widely expected to extend his iron-fisted rule and sweep to victory in a race featuring the same candidates he defeated seven years ago.

Rwanda’s de facto ruler since the end of the 1994 genocide, Kagame faces rival bids by Frank Habineza, leader of the Democratic Green Party — the only authorised opposition — and Philippe Mpayimana, who is running as an independent.

The 66-year-old Kagame is credited with Rwanda’s economic recovery after the genocide, with annual GDP growth averaging 7.2 percent between 2012-2022.

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But his regime is widely criticised for stifling political opposition at home, while a UN report has accused Rwandan troops of fighting alongside the M23 rebel militia in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kagame has won three elections with more than 93 percent of the vote in 2003, 2010 and 2017, taking home nearly 99 percent in the most recent poll.

Habineza secured just 0.48 percent of the vote in 2017, with Mpayimana edging past him with 0.73 percent.

Rwandan courts rejected appeals from prominent opposition figures Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire to remove previous convictions that effectively barred them from standing.

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The election commission also barred high-profile Kagame critic Diane Rwigara, citing issues with her paperwork — the second time she was excluded from running.

The daughter of industrialist Assinapol Rwigara, a former major donor to Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) before he fell out with its leaders, she was accused of forging documents and arrested in 2017 before being acquitted by the courts a year later.

A total of 9.01 million Rwandans are registered to vote, with the presidential poll being held at the same time as legislative elections for the first time.

– ‘President forever’ –
The imbalance between Kagame and his rivals has been evident during the three-week campaigning period, as the well-oiled RPF PR machine swung into high gear.

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Pennants on cars, flags, posters and banners displayed along roadsides, the red, white and blue colours of the ruling party and its slogans “Tora Kagame Paul” (“Vote Paul Kagame”) and “PK24” (for “Paul Kagame 2024”) are everywhere.

In contrast to the thousands-strong crowds attending his rallies, his rivals have struggled to make their voices heard, with barely 100 people showing up to some events.

“I came here to listen what he says but I will vote for Kagame… regardless of the others,” Beatrice Mpawenimana, 30, told AFP at a meeting organised by Habineza’s party in the eastern village of Juru.

“He has given us women a voice, he has brought roads, hospitals, so many things… I want him to be president forever, nobody can replace him.”

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Like most Rwandans — 65 percent of the country’s population is aged under 30 — she has only ever known Kagame as leader.

The bespectacled politician has been in charge of the landlocked nation since his RPF militia routed Hutu extremists responsible for the genocide which left 800,000 dead, mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.

– ‘No real opponent’ –
Initially serving as vice-president and defence minister, Kagame was elected president by parliament in 2000 after the resignation of Pasteur Bizimungu.

Since then, he has won elections by universal suffrage three times: 95.05 percent in 2003, 93.08 percent in 2010, and 98.79 percent in 2017.

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“The RPF ruling party is quite popular across the country, this is undeniable,” Rwandan constitutional lawyer and political analyst Louis Gitinywa told AFP.

“As for the election, it is like an exercise that must be done simply to tick a box. There is no real opponent against Kagame.”

Rights groups accuse the government of abuses including repressing freedom of expression and stamping out dissent.

Amnesty International said this week that Rwanda’s political opposition faces “severe restrictions… as well as threats, arbitrary detention, prosecution, trumped-up charges, killings and enforced disappearances.”

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Kagame presided over controversial constitution amendments in 2015 which shortened presidential terms from seven to five years and reset the clock for the Rwandan leader, potentially allowing him to rule until 2034.

 

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Three Nigerians sentenced To 235 Years In US Prison

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A court in Mississippi, United States of America has sentenced three Nigerians to 235 years in prison.

The jury found all the three personguilty of mail fraud, wire fraud, identity theft, credit card fraud and theft of government property.

Oladimeji Seun Ayelotan, 30, was sentenced to 95 years in prison, while Rasaq Aderoju Raheem, 31, got 115 years jail term.

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READ ALSO: Applicants Decry N640,000 UAE Visa Fee Hike

Also, Femi Alexander Mewase, 45, received 25 years in jail.

They were convicted for running online scams.

They were said to have duped people of tens of millions of dollars.

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Deadly Blaze Kills Even In France

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An apartment building blaze early Thursday killed seven people in the southern French city of Nice and police were investigating the fire as a possible arson, authorities said.

The dead include three children – 5, 7 and 10 years old – and a 17-year-old teenager who tried to escape by jumping from a window, they said.

The apartment was occupied by a family believed to have Comoran origins, the regional prefect Hugues Moutouh said, referring to the southern African island nature.

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Ten people were inside when the fire broke out.

Rescuers were alerted at around 2:30 am (0030 GMT) to the blaze on the seventh floor of the building in the low-income neighbourhood of Les Moulins, known for being a drug-dealing hub, in the west of the city.

READ ALSO: 100-year-old WWII Veteran Returns To Normandy Beach In France To Marry 96-year-old Bride[PHOTOS]

In spite of the substantial resources deployed, “unfortunately seven people died during this fire”, firefighters said.

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Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on social media that the quick arrival of firefighters “probably prevented more deaths”.

Nice prosecutor Damien Martinelli said investigators were looking into a “criminal” cause for the fire.

“In light of the initial evidence, I have opened an investigation into acts of arson leading to death,” he told reporters at the scene.

The authorities said the blaze probably broke out on the building’s second floor and spread to higher floors.

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READ ALSO: Seven Sentenced To Life Imprisonment In S’Africa For B*rning Two Sisters To D@ath Over Alleged Witchcraft

Rescuers said that three people were taken to hospital, one of them with life-threatening injuries.

They said firefighters were confronted by a “raging apartment fire” on the seventh floor of the building. They carried out three aerial ladder rescues and evacuated dozens.

In total, 25 fire engines and 72 firefighters tackled the fire.

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Twenty people were evacuated to a temporary shelter, with Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi saying a crisis unit to help anyone affected by the fire.

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Biden Speaks Of Quitting Presidential Race If…

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US President Joe Biden said he could drop his reelection bid if doctors found he had a medical condition, as a top Democrat on Wednesday urged the 81-year-old to step aside.

Biden’s comments were the first time he has even slightly opened the door to abandoning the White House race, and came as Representative Adam Schiff, a key ally from California, urged Biden to “pass the torch.”

“If I had some medical condition that emerged, if somebody, if the doctors came and said ‘you’ve got this problem, that problem,’” Biden told the Black media outlet BET in an interview taped Tuesday, when asked what could make him rethink.

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Biden however defended his decision to stay on for a rematch with Republican Donald Trump in November, and explained why he had not handed over to a younger generation after one term.

READ ALSO: Biden Falters In Fiery Debate With Trump

“I said I was going to be a transitional candidate, and I thought I’d be able to move on from this, pass it on to someone else,” he said. “But I didn’t anticipate things getting so, so, so divided.”

Biden has been fighting for political survival since a disastrous debate against Trump nearly three weeks ago, in which his tired and confused appearance sparked concerns about his age.

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Schiff became the first Democrat to call for him to step aside since the assassination attempt against Trump on Saturday, which had briefly silenced the growing chorus against Biden.

READ ALSO: Russian Oil Depot Gutted By Fire After Ukrainian Drone Attack

A second Trump presidency will undermine the very foundation of our democracy, and I have serious concerns about whether the President can defeat Donald Trump in November,” Schiff said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.

Schiff, who is expected to win a Senate seat this November, is a key White House ally in the legislature and shot to nationwide prominence as lead prosecutor during then-president Trump’s first impeachment trial.

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Biden was set to make a fresh attempt to prop up his candidacy in a speech to crucial Latino voters in the battleground state of Nevada later Wednesday.

– ‘Pretty damn good’ –

Around 20 House Democrats and one senator have now called on Biden to leave the White House race but Biden has refused, insisting he is best placed to beat Trump.

READ ALSO: Ex-Rep Rejects Membership Of Edo APC Gov Campaign Council

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Biden, Trump agree to election debates in June, September
Most polls show Biden trailing in a tight race, with Trump pulling ahead in key swing states but no dramatic movement since the debate debacle or shooting.

Biden said his mental acuity was “pretty damn good” in an NBC interview on Monday, one of a series of unscripted outings aimed at showing he has what it takes.

With pressure on Biden mounting, Democrats said on Wednesday they plan a virtual nomination for the president in the first week of August, ahead of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on August 19.

Some Democrats have slammed the scheme, accusing the party of trying to ram through Biden’s candidacy and avoid a full discussion of alternative choices.

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Party chiefs say they need to carry out the virtual roll-call by August 7, which is the deadline set by the Republican-led state of Ohio for the submission of nominations.

Biden otherwise risks not being on the ballot in Ohio, the home state of Trump’s new running mate J.D. Vance.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Rema Performs ‘Calm Down’ At Indian Billionaire Ambani’s Son Wedding

While Ohio’s governor has signed a law giving Biden more time, the DNC said it feared further legal challenges.

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“None of this will be rushed,” the heads of the DNC’s rules committee said in a letter to lawmakers obtained by AFP. “No matter what may be reported, our goal is not to fast-track.”

But several lawmakers are planning to sign a letter against the virtual nomination plan and others have criticized it, according to US media.

Biden insists that Democratic voters support him, but a poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said Wednesday that nearly two-thirds want him to step aside.

 

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