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Rwanda vote count begins

KIGALI, Aug 10 – Rwandan President Paul Kagame led on Tuesday in early results of a poll expected to return the post-genocide leader for a second term with a landslide, sparking giant celebrations in the capital.

Tens of thousands of Kagame supporters packed Kigali\’s main football stadium for raucous festivities combining fireworks with reggae after Monday\’s presidential election, whose tense run up was marred by arrests and killings.

Kagame won 92.9 percent of the votes cast, according to results from 11 out of Rwanda\’s 30 districts, Rwanda\’s poll chief Chrysologue Karangwa said.

The maximum score for his challengers was 4.9 percent, clocked by Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo of the Social Democratic Party (PSD). The other two candidates obtained 1.5 and 0.7 percent respectively.

An effusive Kagame thanked the crowd after the announcement was made at the stadium for "making the right choice," but stopped just short of claiming victory.

"We will continue to work for our country to be always first," he said. "This is your victory and the victory of all Rwandan people."

Earlier in the rally officials had announced Kagame had won 96.7 percent of the votes of Rwandans living abroad, sending the crowd in a frenzy.

"It feels like victory!" shouted one of the singers from the stage at Kigali\’s main stadium at the crowd packing the stands and the pitch.

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Singers chanted the anthem "Victory" coined for Kagame\’s 2003 win, where he got 95 percent of the votes cast.

The former rebel\’s supporters credit him with ending Rwanda\’s 1994 genocide, which claimed some 800,000 lives, and ushering in stability and growth, but critics accuse him of undermining democracy and cracking down on opponents.

Some 5.2 million Rwandans were eligible to vote.

Kagame told reporters after voting that the process was "very democratic" and dismissed allegations the real opposition was de facto excluded from the vote.

"The people of Rwanda were free to stand for election — those who wanted to — and to qualify, so I see no problem."

"Some sections of the media seem to be reading from a different page," said Kagame.

There was never much doubt however that the 52-year-old Kagame would be overwhelmingly re-elected.

The lanky Kagame has been the de facto leader of this central African nation since his rebel group turned political party, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), routed Hutu extremists after the genocide.

He was running against three candidates who all backed him in 2003.

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Three new parties, two of which have not been registered by the authorities, were all excluded from the vote and have denounced the election process as a sham, describing Kagame\’s challengers as stooge candidates.

Kagame\’s government, thanks partly to generous international funding, has turned around the economy of a mountainous country with few natural resources, focusing on services and new technology as well as modernising agriculture.

But critics say that is just a facade for a repressive regime.

Human Rights Watch noted that over a period of six months "a worrying pattern of intimidation, harassment and other abuses" has emerged.

Several senior army officers have been arrested in recent months and one general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, narrowly survived an assassination attempt in exile in South Africa.

An opposition journalist who claimed to have uncovered the regime\’s responsibility in the attempted murder was shot dead days later.

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