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The majority of Rwandans have voted to allow President Paul Kagame to extend his term in office, initial referendum results show.

Some 98% of voters support changing the constitution to allow Paul Kagame to run again in 2017 after his second term ends, the National Electoral Commission said.

Paul Kagame, 58, could remain in power until 2034 if the changes are passed.

The vote took place despite criticism of such an amendment by the US and other Western donors.

Rwanda’s electoral commission said 21 out of 30 districts had published results so far, covering about 70% of voters.Rwanda referendum Paul Kagame

Full results are due to be released later on December 19.

Paul Kagame has not said if he will run again, but he is widely expected to.

Asked at the polling station if he would stay on, the president said: “What is happening is the people’s choice. Ask people why they want me.”

However, the US has said Paul Kagame should step down in 2017 to allow a new generation of leaders to emerge.

Rights groups accuse the government of stifling the media and political opposition.

The small opposition Democratic Green Party claimed it had been prevented from campaigning against the change.

Paul Kagame has been president since 2000 but has held power since 1994, when his rebel force entered the capital Kigali to end Rwanda’s genocide.

The debate over extending presidential terms has led to instability in other African countries such as Burundi and Congo Republic, but has not caused unrest in Rwanda.


People gathered for a Mass in Rwandan capital Kigali ahead of a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide.

Meanwhile a diplomatic row has seen France pull out of the commemorative events.

The Mass at Sainte-Famille Catholic church in Kigali remembered those who died in the church itself or elsewhere in the country.

At least 800,000 people – mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus – died at the hands of Hutu extremists in 1994.

Most of the victims of the genocide were attacked with machetes during 100 days of slaughter that began on April 6, 1994, shortly after Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital.

People gathered in Kigali ahead of a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of Rwanda's genocide

People gathered in Kigali ahead of a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide

Some Christian leaders were implicated in the violence.

A genocide survivor who attended the Mass, Innocent Muhozi, said: “Today’s Mass was about resurrection and I believe that one day, the souls of the people we lost will resurrect.

“This church has a very long history because many people died in it during genocide but some also survived it because they were in this church.”

Pope Francis, in his weekly address to the faithful at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, spoke of the anniversary.

“On this occasion I would like to express my paternal closeness to the people of Rwanda, encouraging them to continue with determination and hope, the process of reconciliation that has already manifested its fruits, and the commitment of human and spiritual reconstruction of the country,” he said.

The killings in Rwanda ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel movement that entered the country from Uganda, marched on Kigali and seized control of the country.

Yesterday, the French government announced it was pulling out of the 20th anniversary commemorations following an accusation by Rwandan President Paul Kagame – who led the RPF to victory – that France had participated in the mass killings.

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France has announced that it is pulling out of the 20th anniversary commemorations on Monday for the Rwandan genocide.

The French government’s decision follows an accusation by Rwandan President Paul Kagame that France participated in the mass killings in 1994.

Paul Kagame has previously made similar allegations, which France has denied.

The French foreign ministry said the remarks went against reconciliation efforts between the two countries.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has cancelled her plans to attend the events in Kigali on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal says.

Speaking to the French-language weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique, Paul Kagame denounced the “direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide”.

Rwanda was a Belgian colony until 1962.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused France of participating in the mass killings in 1994

Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused France of participating in the mass killings in 1994

In the interview, due to be published on Sunday but carried out on March 27, Paul Kagame is quoted as saying that, 20 years on, “the only plausible reproach in [France’s] eyes is in not having done enough to save lives during the genocide”.

It comes as Rwanda prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the atrocities that claimed at least 800,000 lives – mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus – over a period of about 100 days.

The violence was triggered by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu who was killed in a plane crash on April 6, 1994.

It came to an end after Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) – a Tutsi-led rebel group – defeated government troops in July that year.

His party still controls the government and has long accused France – an ally of Juvenal Habyarimana’s government at the time – of aiding the genocide.

In recent years there has been a thaw in relations between the two countries, with a visit by Paul Kagame to Paris in 2011 and the establishment by France of a genocide investigation unit.

Last month, a Paris court sentenced former Rwandan spy chief Pascal Simbikangwa to 25 years in jail for his role in the genocide – the first such conviction in France.

France has acknowledged that serious errors were made during the genocide in Rwanda.

A Rwandan commission in 2008 said France was aware of preparations for the genocide and helped train ethnic Hutu militias who participated in killings.

Paris said its forces helped protect civilians as part of an UN-mandated intervention in Rwanda. But Paul Kagame said French troops had protected the militias carrying out the killings.

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