Rwanda: Kagame selected as interim president

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The Independent Online

Rwanda's most powerful political party met Friday to nominate two candidates for president amid speculation that former rebel leader and top army commander Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame may succeed Pasteur Bizimungu, whose resignation has sent the country into a political tailspin.

Kagame, vice president and minister of defense, is already the chairman of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, the leading political force in the country, as well as commander-in-chief of the the 50,000-strong army, one of the most powerful and efficient in Africa.

In the past, Kagame, son of Tutsi exiles who led former RPF rebels to a victory in July 1994 and stopped the genocide ordered by a Hutu extremist government of more than 500,000 people, has been reluctant to assume the country's top post for fear of antagonizing Rwanda's Hutu majority and consolidating the perception that the Tutsi minority rules the tiny central African nation.

"Nothing is ruled out," said Charles Muligande, RPF secretary-general.

Muligande said the closed-door meeting of 93 RPF members would decide either by consensus, or failing that, by a majority of votes, on two nominees who will then go before a joint session of the 18-member Cabinet and the 70-member National Assembly for a final vote. A date for the vote has not yet been set.

In the meantime, it was not clear who had assumed the interim presidency after Bizimungu's surprise resignation.

The Supreme Court, which received his resignation letter Thursday, said it still had to decide whether the vice-president or National Assembly speaker Vincent Biruta would be designated.

The RPF political bureau meeting comes a day after the resignation of Bizimungu, a 49-year Hutu technocrat, who was embroiled in a row with parliament, Cabinet and his own RPF party over his opposition to the prosecution of government ministers suspected of graft and mismanagement.

A month-long power struggle threatened to explode along ethnic lines Monday when Bizimungu accused legislators, who are both Hutu and Tutsis, of selectively going after Hutu politicians, and wrongly persecuting former Prime Minister Pierre-Celestin Rwigema, also a Hutu, who resigned on corruption charges on Feb. 28.

According to a 1993 power-sharing agreement between the then Hutu government and the RPF - under which Rwanda is still governed - the RPF names the candidate for president. Parliament and the Cabinet must ratify its choice.

Under the agreement, Rwandan political parties are allocated seats in both the Cabinet and parliament according to inter-party arrangements. The country's leaders last year prolonged the post-genocide transition period for another five years before committing themselves to elections, arguing that tensions stemming from the 1994 bloodbath were still too high to be able to guarantee a free ballot.

Muligande said he did not expect Bizimungu to attend Friday's meeting.

He said Bizimungu had also resigned as RPF vice chairman, although he was still technically a party member.