Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election

Rwanda Patriotic Front (FPR) supporters gather during a kick-off rally to support Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in Musanze on June 22, 2024. (AFP)
Rwanda Patriotic Front (FPR) supporters gather during a kick-off rally to support Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in Musanze on June 22, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election

Campaigning opens in Rwanda presidential election
  • The election commission also barred Kagame critic Diane Rwigara, saying she had failed to provide a criminal record statement as required and had not met the threshold of acquiring 600 supporting signatures from citizens

KIGALI: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame defended his country’s democratic credentials as campaigning opened on Saturday for the July 15 presidential election, with the incumbent widely expected to extend his 24-year iron-fisted rule over the Great Lakes nation.
Nine million Rwandans are registered to vote in the poll concurrently with legislative elections.
Kagame has been Rwanda’s de facto ruler since the end of the 1994 genocide.
President since 2000, the 66-year-old will face the same rivals as he did in 2017: the leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party, Frank Habineza, and former journalist Philippe Mpayimana, who is running as an independent.
Rwandan courts rejected appeals from top opposition figures Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire to remove previous convictions that effectively barred them from contesting.
The election commission also barred Kagame critic Diane Rwigara, saying she had failed to provide a criminal record statement as required and had not met the threshold of acquiring 600 supporting signatures from citizens.
The daughter of industrialist Assinapol Rwigara, a former major donor to Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front party who fell out with its leaders, the 42-year-old was arrested and disqualified from running in 2017 over allegations of forgery before being acquitted.
Speaking at a rally attended by thousands of supporters, many of whom were ferried by bus to the venue, Kagame defended Rwanda’s record on democracy in an apparent swipe at allegations of stifling opposition.
“People usually disagree on democracy or understand it differently. But for us, we have our understanding of it. Democracy means choice, choosing what is good for you and what you want,” he told a cheering crowd in the northern town of Musanze.
“Nothing is better than being Rwandan, but even better, nothing is better than being your leader ... I came here to thank you, not to ask for your votes.”
Elected by parliament in 2000 after the resignation of former president Pasteur Bizimungu, Kagame won three elections, with more than 90 percent of the ballot in 2003, 2010, and 2017, taking home nearly 99 percent of votes in the most recent poll.
He has been praised for Rwanda’s economic recovery after the genocide but faces criticism over rights abuses and political repression.
In a statement published last week, Human Rights Watch accused the government of a long-running crackdown on the opposition, media, and civil society.
“The threat of physical harm, arbitrary judicial proceedings, and long prison sentences, which can often lead to torture, have effectively deterred many Rwandans from engaging in opposition activities and demanding accountability from their political leaders,” said Clementine de Montjoye, senior Africa researcher at HRW.
In 2015, Kagame presided over controversial constitutional amendments, potentially allowing him to rule until 2034.
These shortened presidential terms from seven to five years and reset the clock for Kagame, allowing him to rule in a transitional capacity from 2017 to 2024 and then for two five-year terms until 2034.
The legislative elections will feature more than 500 candidates, with voters electing 53 out of 80 lawmakers.
The 27 remaining seats in the parliament are reserved for independent candidates, including 24 women, two young representatives, and one disabled person.
Currently, Kagame’s party and its allies hold 49 of the 53 seats in the lower house.
Opposition challenger Habineza’s Democratic Green Party has two seats, as does the Social Party Imberakuri.
The women lawmakers are elected by municipal and regional councilors, the youth representatives by the National Youth Council and the disabled candidate chosen by the Federation of Associations of the Disabled.

 


’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest

’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest
Updated 14 sec ago
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’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest

’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest
  • Faith’s customs dictate that anyone who dies must be given a prompt burial

DHAKA: Grief-stricken widow Fatema Begum wept when hospital staff said her husband had been killed in the unrest that has roiled Bangladesh for nearly a week. She wept again when they refused to hand over his body.
Islam is the majority religion in the south Asian country, where 155 people have died since Tuesday in clashes between student protesters and police over contentious civil service hiring rules.
The faith’s customs dictate that anyone who dies must be given a prompt burial.
But staff at one of the biggest hospitals in the capital Dhaka has a longstanding requirement to only release bodies to relatives with police permission, and that is no longer easily forthcoming.
“Where is my husband?” Begum, 40, shouted at staffers outside the hospital’s morgue, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Give me his body.”
Begum’s husband Kamal Mia, 45, eked out a tough living as a pedal-rickshaw driver, transporting people around the sprawling megacity of 20 million people for the equivalent of a dollar per fare.
The family says he was not taking part in any of the clashes that have wrought widespread destruction around the city, but was killed by stray police fire.
Begum and her two daughters were told to go to a nearby police station for clearance. When her eldest daughter Anika went there, it was barricaded shut.
Officers had closed the station after arson attacks on dozens of police posts by protesters.
Anika was then sent to another police station farther away — a 10-kilometer (six-mile) round trip from the hospital — despite a nationwide government-imposed curfew.
Police there refused to give the necessary permission for the release of the body.
“My father was not a protester,” Anika said. “Why did my father have to die?“


Mia was among more than 60 people whose deaths in the unrest were recorded at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the country’s largest health care facility in the heart of the capital.
The relentless influx of patients since the start of the police crackdown on protesters has stretched the hospital to its limits.
Ambulances, private cars and rickshaws carrying the wounded were at one point arriving an average of once per minute, an AFP correspondent at the scene saw.
The entry gate of the emergency department, guarded by paramilitary Ansar forces, was blood-stained.
As soon as casualties arrive, staff rush with stretchers and trolleys. Some wounded people were given first aid for a rubber bullet, while others who were hit by injuries had to wait — sometimes for hours — for the doctors on duty.
Some are brought in already dead. Loved ones burst into tears as soon as a doctor or nurse makes it official.
A group of volunteers stood by the emergency department using loudhailers to call for blood donors after the hospital’s stocks were depleted.
Among the dozens of grieving relatives at the hospital, the steps the police took to quell the student demonstrations have prompted untempered fury against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.
“Hasina’s police have killed my son to keep her in power,” the father of a 30-year-old mobile phone shop owner shot dead in the capital, who asked not to be identified, told AFP.
“God will punish her for this unjust torture.”


Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east

Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east
Updated 20 min 31 sec ago
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Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east

Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east
  • Overnight into Sunday, Ukraine’s air defenses intercepted 35 of the 39 drones launched by Russia

KYIV: Russia and Ukraine exchanged drone, missile and shelling attacks on Sunday. At least two people were killed in Ukrainian strikes on the partly Russian-occupied Donetsk region, Russian state media said, while Ukrainian officials said Russian strikes wounded at least five people.
Along the front line in the east, Russia said it had taken control of two villages, one in the Kharkiv region and one in the Luhansk region.
Ukrainian shelling of Russia-held areas of the Donetsk region killed two people in the village of Horlivka, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said.
Three people were wounded by Russian drone strikes in southern Ukraine’s partly occupied Kherson region, local officials said Sunday morning. In the country’s northeast, officials in the Kharkiv region said two people were wounded when a village was hit by Russian shells.
Overnight into Sunday, Ukraine’s air defenses intercepted 35 of the 39 drones launched by Russia, according to air force commander Mykola Oleschuk. In addition, Russia launched three ballistic missiles and two guided air missiles, which did not reach their targets, he said.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said Sunday that its troops had taken control of two villages: Pishchane Nizhne in the Kharkiv region and Andriivka, sometimes referred to as Rozivka, in the Luhansk region. Kyiv did not immediately comment.
Officials in the northern Sumy region said Sunday that Russia launched a missile strike on “critical infrastructure facilities” in the city of Shostka. City mayor Mykola Noha specified that “two heating facilities” had been destroyed and called on residents to use electricity sparingly and stock up on water.
With few changes reported along the 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line, where a recent push by the Kremlin’s forces in eastern and northeastern Ukraine has made only incremental gains, both sides in the war have taken aim at infrastructure targets — seeking to curb each other’s ability to fight in a war that is now in its third year.
Russian air defense systems overnight destroyed eight drones over the country’s Belgorod region and over the Black Sea, the Russian Ministry of Defense said.
Russian air defense also shot down two long-range ballistic ATACMS missiles in the sky over the Kherson region heading for Russia-annexed Crimea, Russia-installed Kherson governor Vladimir Saldo said.
Nine people were wounded over the previous day in shelling in the town of Shebekino in Russia’s Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Sunday morning.


What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work

What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work
Updated 21 July 2024
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What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work

What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work
  • Democrats are set to hold their convention in Chicago on Aug. 19-22 - now an open contest

ATLANTA: With President Joe Biden ending his reelection bid and endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris, Democrats now must navigate a shift that is unprecedented this late in an election year.

Democrats are set to hold their convention in Chicago on Aug. 19-22. What was supposed to be a coronation for Biden now becomes an open contest in which nearly 4,700 delegates will be responsible for picking a new standard-bearer to challenge Republican Donald Trump in the fall.

The path ahead is neither easy nor obvious, even with Biden endorsing Harris. There are unanswered questions about logistics, money and political fallout.
Can Biden redirect his delegates?
Biden won every state primary and caucus earlier this year and only lost the territory of American Samoa. At least 3,896 delegates had been pledged to support him.
Current party rules do not permit Biden to pass them to another candidate. Politically, though, his endorsement is likely to be influential.
What could happen at the convention?
With Biden stepping aside, Democrats technically start with an open convention. But realistically, his endorsement pushes Democrats into murky territory.
The immediate burden is on Harris to solidify support across almost 4,000 delegates from the states, territories and District of Columbia, plus more than 700 so-called superdelegates that include party leaders, certain elected officials and former presidents and vice presidents.
Will anyone challenge Harris?
Even before Biden announced his decision, Democrats floated California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as potential contenders in addition to Harris. Yet some Democrats argued publicly, and many privately, that it would be a no-brainer to elevate the first woman, first Black woman and first person of south Asian descent to hold national office.
Given how important Black voters -– and Black women especially -– were to Biden’s nomination and his choice of Harris as running mate, it would be risky, to say the least, for Democrats to pass her over for a white nominee. Democrats already faced historical headwinds before Biden’s withdrawal. Newsom and Whitmer, both of whom are white, and any other Democrat would also have to weigh the short-term and long-term benefits of challenging Harris now versus preserving goodwill for a future presidential primary.
Yet, fair or not, Harris also has not been viewed as an especially beloved or empowered vice president. The best scenario for her and Democrats is to quickly shore up support and project a united front. Democrats could even go forward with their plans for an early virtual vote – a move they’d planned to make sure Biden was selected ahead of Ohio’s general election ballot deadline.
What happens to Biden’s campaign money?
Biden’s campaign recently reported $91 million cash on hand. Allied Democratic campaign committees brought the total at his disposal to more than $240 million. Campaign finance experts agree generally that Harris could control all those funds since the campaign was set up in her name as well as Biden’s. If Democrats do nominate someone other than Harris, party accounts could still benefit the nominee, but the Biden-Harris account would have more restrictions. For example, legal experts say it could become an independent expenditure political action committee but not simply transfer its balance to a different nominee.
How will a vice presidential nomination work?
The vice presidential nomination is always a separate convention vote. In routine years, the convention ratifies the choice of the nominee. If Harris closes ranks quickly, she could name her choice and have the delegates ratify it. In an extended fight, though, the vice presidency could become part of horse-trading — again, a return to conventions of an earlier era.
Can Republicans keep Harris off state ballots?
Any curveball during a US presidential campaign is certain to produce a flurry of state and federal lawsuits in this hyper-partisan era, and some conservatives have threatened just that.
State laws, though, typically do not prescribe how parties choose their nominees for president. And some GOP figures – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey – have worked already this year to ensure their party did not deny Democrats’ routine ballot access.


Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term

Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term
Updated 21 July 2024
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Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term

Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term
  • By dropping his reelection bid, Biden clears the way for Vice President Kamala Harris to run at the top of the ticket
  • It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris, seen as pick for many, for party’s nomination

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden ended his reelection campaign on Sunday after fellow Democrats lost faith in his mental acuity and ability to beat Donald Trump, leaving the presidential race in uncharted territory.
Biden, in a post on X, said he will remain in his role as president and commander-in-chief until his term ends in January 2025 and will address the nation this week.
“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your President. And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.
By dropping his reelection bid, he clears the way for Vice President Kamala Harris to run at the top of the ticket, the first Black woman to do so in the country’s history.
Biden, 81, did not mention her when he announced his move.
It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris for the party’s nomination, who was widely seen as the pick for many party officials — or whether the party itself would choose to open the field for nominations.
Biden’s announcement follows a wave of public and private pressure from Democratic lawmakers and party officials to quit the race after his shockingly poor performance in a televised debate last month against Republican rival Donald Trump.


Biden ends faltering reelection campaign, backs Harris as replacement

Biden ends faltering reelection campaign, backs Harris as replacement
Updated 38 min 43 sec ago
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Biden ends faltering reelection campaign, backs Harris as replacement

Biden ends faltering reelection campaign, backs Harris as replacement
  • President endorses Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him
  • Biden campaign on the ropes since disastrous June 27 debate against former President Trump

WASHINGTON DC: US President Joe Biden dropped his faltering reelection bid on Sunday, amid intensifying opposition within his own Democratic Party, and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him as the party’s candidate against Republican Donald Trump.
Biden, 81, in a post on X, said he will remain in his role as president and commander-in-chief until his term ends in January 2025 and will address the nation this week.
“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your President. And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.

His initial statement had not included an endorsement of Harris, but he followed up a few minutes later with an expression of support.
Biden’s campaign had been on the ropes since a disastrous June 27 debate against former President Trump, 78, in which the incumbent at times struggled to finish his thoughts.
Opposition from within Biden’s party gained steam over the past week with 36 congressional Democrats — more than one in eight members of the caucus — publicly calling on him to end his campaign.
Lawmakers said they feared he could cost them not only the White House but also the chance to control either chamber of Congress in the Nov. 5 election, leaving Democrats with no meaningful grasp on power.
That stood in sharp contrast to what played out in the Republican Party last week, when members united around Trump and his running mate US Senator J.D. Vance, 39.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Harris, 59, would become the first Black woman to run at the top of a major-party ticket in the country’s history.
Trump told CNN on Sunday that he believed Harris would be easier to defeat.
Biden had a last-minute change of heart, said a source familiar with the matter. The president told allies that as of Saturday night he planned to stay in the race before changing his mind on Sunday afternoon.
“Last night the message was proceed with everything, full speed ahead,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At around 1:45 p.m. today: the president told his senior team that he had changed his mind.”
Biden announced his decision on social media within minutes.
It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris for the party’s nomination — she was widely seen as the pick for many party officials — or whether the party itself would choose to open the field for nominations.
Congressional Republicans argued that Biden should resign the office immediately, which would turn the White House over to Harris and put House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, next in line in succession.
“If he’s incapable of running for president, how is he capable of governing right now? I mean, there is five months left in this administration. It’s a real concern, and it’s a danger to the country,” Johnson told CNN on Sunday before Biden’s announcement.

GAVE IT MY ALL
Biden’s announcement follows a wave of public and private pressure from Democratic lawmakers and party officials to quit the race after his shockingly poor debate.
His troubles took the public spotlight away from Trump’s performance, in which he made a string of false statements, and trained it instead on questions surrounding Biden’s fitness for another 4-year term.
Days later he raised fresh concerns in an interview, shrugging off Democrats’ worries and a widening gap in opinion polls, and saying he would be fine losing to Trump if he knew he’d “gave it my all.”
His gaffes at a NATO summit — invoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name when he meant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and calling Harris “Vice President Trump” -further stoked anxieties.
Only four days before Sunday’s announcement, Biden was diagnosed with COVID-19, forcing him to cut short a campaign trip to Las Vegas. More than one in 10 congressional Democrats had called publicly for him to quit the race.
Biden’s historic move — the first sitting president to give up his party’s nomination for reelection since President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War in March 1968 — leaves his replacement with less than four months to wage a campaign.

If Harris emerges as the nominee, the move would represent an unprecedented gamble by the Democratic Party: its first Black and Asian American woman to run for the White House in a country that has elected one Black president and never a woman president in more than two centuries.
Biden was the oldest US president ever elected when he beat Trump in 2020. During that campaign, Biden described himself as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders. Some interpreted that to mean he would serve one term, a transitional figure who beat Trump and brought his party back to power.
But he set his sights on a second term in the belief that he was the only Democrat who could beat Trump again amid questions about Harris’s experience and popularity. In recent times, though, his advanced age began to show through more. His gait became stilted and his childhood stutter occasionally returned.
His team had hoped a strong performance at the June 27 debate would ease concerns over his age. It did the opposite: a Reuters/Ipsos poll after the debate showed that about 40 percent of Democrats thought he should quit the race.
Donors began to revolt and supporters of Harris began to coalesce around her. Top Democrats, including former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime ally, told Biden he cannot win the election.
Biden initially resisted pressure to step aside. He held damage-control calls and meetings with lawmakers and state governors, and sat for rare television interviews. But it was not enough. Polls showed Trump’s lead in key battleground states widening, and Democrats began to fear a wipeout in the House and Senate. On July 17, California’s Rep. Adam Schiff called on him to exit the race.
Biden’s departure sets up a stark new contrast, between the Democrats’ presumptive new nominee, Harris, a former prosecutor, and Trump who is two decades her senior and faces two outstanding criminal prosecutions related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election result. He is due to be sentenced in New York in September on a conviction for trying to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star.

BIDEN STRUGGLED BEFORE DEBATE
Earlier this year, facing little opposition, Biden easily won the Democratic primary race to pick its presidential candidate, despite voter concerns about his age and health.
His staunch support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza eroded support among some in his own party, particularly young, progressive Democrats and voters of color, who make up an essential part of the Democratic base.
Many Black voters say Biden has not done enough for them, and enthusiasm among Democrats overall for a second Biden term had been low. Even before the debate with Trump, Biden was trailing the Republican in some national polls and in the battleground states he would have needed to win to prevail on Nov. 5.
Harris was tasked with reaching out to those voters in recent months.
During the primary race, Biden accumulated more than 3,600 delegates to the Democratic National Convention to be held in Chicago in August. That was almost double the 1,976 needed to win the party’s nomination.
Unless the Democratic Party changes the rules, delegates pledged to Biden would enter the convention “uncommitted,” leaving them to vote on his successor.
Democrats also have a system of “superdelegates,” unpledged senior party officials and elected leaders whose support is limited on the first ballot but who could play a decisive role in subsequent rounds.
Biden beat Trump in 2020 by winning in the key battleground states, including tight races in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At a national level, he bested Trump by more than 7 million votes, capturing 51.3 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 46.8 percent.