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Rwandan opposition leader Ingabire released on bail

After being charged Wednesday with denying the 1994 genocide, Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was released on bail Thursday. The move is the latest sign of rising tensions ahead of August presidential elections

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer, Max DelanyCorrespondent / April 22, 2010

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire poses at her home, on April 7 in Kigali in Rwanda. Ingabire was arrested for collaborating with a terrorist organization and other genocide-related accusations. She is currently released on bail.

Bertrand Guay/AFP/Newscom


Johannesburg; and Kampala, Uganda

In the latest sign of rising tensions ahead of presidential elections in August, Rwandan authorities have arrested a leading opposition politician on charges of denying the 1994 genocide, spreading genocide ideology, and collaborating with a brutal Rwandan rebel army based in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Victoire Ingabire, head of the yet-to-be-registered United Democratic Forces and a former accountant who belongs to the ethnic Hutu majority, returned to Rwanda in January to register her party and launch a vigorous campaign against President Paul Kagame for August 2010 elections.

Since her return, Ingabire has been repeatedly questioned by police until eventually being arrested and charged in the capital, Kigali, Wednesday. On Thursday, she was released on bail on the condition that she report regularly to the authorities and not leave the country, according to Protais Mutembe, her lawyer.

The arrest of Ms. Ingabire comes just days after the arrest of top Rwandan Army generals on corruption charges, and weeks after a senior Rwandan diplomat fled to South Africa for safety, claiming that Mr. Kagame’s strong-armed rule had limited “the political space” in Rwanda.

"The prosecution's case against Ms Ingabire is based on facts and evidence," said Rwanda’s chief prosecutor, Martin Ngoga. “The actions that led to these charges against Ms. Ingabire are extremely serious and cannot go unpunished.”

Sixteen years after the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 100-day orgy of violence organized by ethnic Hutu extremists, politics and one’s view of history are often still colored by ethnic divides.

Some Rwandans see the Kagame regime as a dictatorship in which criticism is punished as a crime. But officials have argued that tight control has led to stability and economic growth in a country still scarred by horror – and Kagame supporters see opposition leaders like Ingabire as whipping up ethnic hatred, and returning the country to civil war.

“The Kagame regime maintains a siege mentality, which is the justification to beat up one’s opposition as genocidaires,” says Richard Cornwell, an independent political analyst based in Pretoria. By linking Ingabire to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the armed militia linked to the 1994 genocide, Kagame builds himself up as a savior and tears down his opponent as a criminal. “The Rwandans play for keeps,” Mr. Cornwell says. “You get your revenge in first.”

Ingabire: persecuted for challenging ruling elite