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Rwanda election: Calls mount for independent autopsy of slain opposition leader

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Hereward Holland/Reuters

(Read caption) Rwandan President Paul Kagame attends the launch of his re-election campaign at a rally in the capital, Kigali, July 20. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Mr. Kagame's government to conduct a full investigation into the latest death: that of Democratic Green Party vice chairman Andre Kagwa Rwisereka.

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Rwanda's election season is in full swing and prominent critics of President Paul Kagame are turning up dead ahead of the Aug. 9 vote.

Are the killings politically motivated?

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That possibility has United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon concerned enough that he has urged Mr. Kagame's government to conduct a full investigation into the latest death: that of Democratic Green Party vice chairman Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, who was found last week nearly decapitated.

But the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that an autopsy is needed after conflicting police statements have muddied the waters.

"This is the second killing of an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government in less than a month," said HRW boss Kenneth Roth, referring also to Jean-Léonard Rugambage, a journalist who was shot dead outside his home in June. "An independent autopsy and inquiry are necessary to determine what happened to Rwisereka."

At first, authorities said he was the victim of a robbery, according to HRW, which said its own investigation revealed that the victim did not have any valuables on him at the time of the attack. Then, says HRW, police later said he was killed in a financial dispute.

"A thorough independent investigation would confirm or dispel these different explanations," Mr. Roth said in a statement.

Crackdown on dissent ahead of the vote

Rwisereka was a longtime member of Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), but broke ranks last year to start the Democratic Green Party with other disaffected RPF members. His killing comes amid a crackdown on the opposition and sporadic acts of violence – including mysterious grenade attacks – in recent months. Rwanda specialists say a power struggle for control of the RPF is under way and that Kagame is seeking to quash the minirebellion within his ranks.

Rwisereka explained his rationale for splitting with Kagame to the BBC in October 2009.

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"It is time for people to act to bring about changes, as the RPF is incapable of having an internal revolution. So it has to accept that others come to its aid," he said. "A party that does not renew itself, from the point of view of its ideas, ends up falling. All the parties you have known which have worked with dictatorship, where are they now? "

As the Monitor reported last month, South African police were treating the attempted murder of former Rwandan Army chief Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa – a longtime Kagame ally who fled Rwanda in February after Kagame's government accused him of launching grenade attacks – as an assassination attempt.

Kagame's government has also recently banned two independent newspapers, denied an HRW researcher a visa, and, in April, arrested Kagame’s chief opponent in the presidential elections, Victoire Ingabire, for “genocide denial.”

Kagame shrugs off criticism

Kagame has long dismissed such criticism and reiterated his stance on Wednesday.

"The elections will be free, fair, and stable," Kagame told reporters. "If people in Rwanda decide that I shouldn't continue to lead, I would respect it humbly, 110 percent."

If Kagame wins, as he is once again widely expected to, Kagame said he will continue to boost the economy with pro-business policies that have been lauded worldwide.

As for why the opposition is so weak: That's not his problem, suggested Kagame.

"My job has not been to create an opposition," he said. "My job is to create the environment where legitimate things can happen."

Now, for extra credit, define legitimate.

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