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Rwandan president removes justice minister amid 'Hotel Rwanda' hero trial

AFRICA
By Reuters | September 1st 2021

Rwandan President Paul Kagame looks on as he attends a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Presidential Palace in Kigali, Rwanda May 27, 2021. [Reuters]

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has removed the justice minister but made him ambassador to Britian amid international scrutiny over the trial of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotelier credited with saving many lives during the 1994 genocide.

A government statement issued on Tuesday gave no reason for the dismissal of Johnston Busingye, who had served as justice minister and attorney general since 2013.

Busingye was appointed Rwanda's ambassador to Britain, the statement said. 

Kagame did not immediately name a new justice minister. Requests for comment to government spokespeople and the presidency office were not answered.

Rusesabagina was hailed as a hero after he used his connections as the manager of a Kigali hotel to save ethnic Tutsis from slaughter during the genocide. He was portrayed in the 2004 Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda".

Now he is accused of nine terrorism-related charges, including forming and funding an armed rebel group. Before his arrest, Rusesabagina, who was living in the United States, was a vocal critic of the Kagame government.

Prosecutors have requested a life sentence for Rusesabagina, whose family says he is in poor health and being mistreated in prison. The court is scheduled to issue its verdict on Sept. 20.

In an interview with Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel in February, then Minister Busingye said the government had paid for the flight that brought Rusesabagina to Rwanda last year, which Rusesabagina's family said resulted in his kidnapping.

Rusesabagina's trial has drawn attention to Kagame, whom rights groups say has used authoritarian tactics to crush political opposition and extend his rule.

The government's arrest of Rusesabagina amounted to enforced disappearance, a serious violation of international law, New York-based Human Rights Watch said at the time.

Kagame became head of state in 2000 after he and his rebel forces halted the genocide in 1994 after 100 days of bloodletting and around 800,000 deaths of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

? He won landslide victories in subsequent elections, the most recent in 2017 when he won nearly 99% of the vote. He changed the constitution in 2015, enabling him to rule legally until 2034.

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