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Commonwealth to monitor Rwanda's presidential poll


Rwanda's President Paul Kagame accepts one of the Clinton Global Citizen Awards at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 24, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame accepts one of the Clinton Global Citizen Awards at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 24, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East

By Hereward Holland

KIGALI (Reuters) - The Commonwealth will send a monitoring team to Rwanda's August presidential election in which incumbent Paul Kagame is likely to seek a second seven-year term, authorities said.

On his first visit to Kigali since Rwanda joined the 54-member organization last year, Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the Commonwealth would assist in strengthening the central African country's electoral commission.

Mainly composed of former British colonies, the group will also help improve Rwanda's judiciary and provide training to the central African country's journalists.

"I have offered, that in the presidential election now coming up in August, we would be very happy to send a team," Sharma told journalists late on Friday.

Foreign affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo accepted his offer. The Commonwealth previously monitored 2008 legislative elections when Rwanda became the first country in the world to register a female majority in parliament.

New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch described it as peaceful but marred by "serious irregularities."

"We are thrilled to welcome a Commonwealth election monitoring group," Mushikiwabo said, "It is a way for us to interact even more in a specific area of interest both to the Commonwealth and us."

Rwanda is formally a multiparty democracy but in practice analysts say the real power lies in the hands of Kagame, the head of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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