Early vote returns show Rwanda leader with 99 percent lead

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KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwanda's long-time president had a strong lead in Friday's presidential vote, getting 99 percent support with nearly half the votes counted, according to preliminary results from an election he was widely expected to win.

President Paul Kagame, who has led Rwanda since his rebels ended the 1994 genocide that left more than 800,000 people dead, told a campaign rally in July that "the day of the presidential elections will just be a formality."

Neither of his challengers has reached the 1 percent mark so far, according to the partial results announced by the electoral commission.

Provisional results will be announced Saturday afternoon, the commission said. Vote counting is continuing in Rwanda's capital of Kigali.

Kagame was running against Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda — the only permitted opposition party — and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Three potential candidates were disqualified for allegedly failing to fulfil requirements including collecting enough signatures.

Candidates had been barred from putting campaign posters in most public places, including schools and hospitals. The electoral commission vetted candidates' campaign messages, warning that their social media accounts could be blocked otherwise.

More than 80 percent of Rwanda's 6.9 million registered voters cast their ballots, according to Charles Munyaneza, executive secretary of the Rwanda Electoral Commission.

Polling stations in some parts of the capital, Kigali, had long lines on Friday. Kagame made no public remarks after voting there.

While the 59-year-old Kagame remains popular for presiding over economic growth, critics accuse him of being intolerant to criticism and of using state powers to remove perceived opponents.

Rwandan authorities, including Kagame, deny critics' claims that the government targets dissidents for assassination or disappearances.

On Friday, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo on Twitter mocked a post by Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who called the government a "murderous dictatorship."

"Ken, Ken, Ken... You've come off your medication again?" she tweeted, suggesting that he could "get help" at a psychiatric hospital in her country.

A constitutional amendment after a referendum in 2015 allows Kagame to stay in power until 2034 if he pursues it.

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