Deadly crush at rally as Rwanda election campaign starts

Incumbent President of Rwanda Paul Kagame waves to supporters during the launch of his presidential campaign in Musanze, Rwanda.
Mr Kagame lauched his campaign for a fourth term over the weekend [EPA]

One person has died and dozens were injured during a crush at an election rally for Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, officials say.

Campaigning for July's general election began on Saturday, with Mr Kagame holding two rallies in northern Rwanda over the weekend.

The crush happened on Sunday in Rubavu district, where 37 people were injured, four of whom were hospitalised with serious injuries, a statement from the ministry of local government said.

It apologised to the deceased's family, adding that a medical team on site "did everything possible".

Mr Kagame is running for a fourth term. He has been the country's de facto leader since 1994, when his then rebel group, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, seized power at the end of the genocide directed at members of his Tutsi ethnic group.

He won the last presidential election in 2017 with nearly 99% of the vote.

The 66-year-old president has faced criticism from rights groups for cracking down on the opposition - but he has fierecly defended Rwanda's record on human rights, saying his country respects political freedoms.

After Sunday's stampede, the ministry of local government reminded "those participating in campaign activities... to follow the instructions given by those in charge to ensure the safety and tranquillity of those participating in campaign activities".

On Monday morning, Mr Kagame's RPF-Inkotanyi party said it was "deeply saddened" and sent its condolences to the deceased's family.

"The RPF-Inkotanyi organisation will continue to... closely monitor those injured in the crush," it said in a statement published on social media.

Earlier, the party posted a video on Facebook of Mr Kagame taking the stage at the rally. Crowds of supporters, decked out in party colours, can be seen dancing, cheering, and waving flags. Some 250,000 people were in attendance, the party said.

Mr Kagame will face two other politicians - Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party and independent Philippe Mpayimana - in the race to become president.

Diane Rwigara, an outspoken critic of Mr Kagame, was barred from standing in next month’s presidential election.

The electoral commission said Ms Rwigara had failed to provide the correct documentation to show she had no criminal record and had not shown she had enough support nationwide to stand.

Ms Rwigara, who was also disqualified from the 2017 poll, dismissed these reasons, saying she had been "cheated" out of her "right to campaign".

Rwandans will head to the polls on 15 July to elect their next president and lawmakers.

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