Rwanda disqualifies 3 presidential hopefuls amid criticism

Rwanda's electoral commission on Friday disqualified three candidates for next month's presidential election, including the only woman, saying they didn't fulfil requirements such as collecting enough supporting signatures.

The announcement comes as Amnesty International charged that the election will be held under a "climate of fear" and repression.

Those disqualified are Diane Shima Rwigara, Gilbert Mwenedata and Fred Sekikubo Barafinda, said Kalisa Mbanda, chief of the electoral commission. Rwigara, who was running as an independent, said last week that local leaders threatened her supporters while they collected signatures.

Rwandans go to the polls Aug. 4 and will choose among longtime President Paul Kagame, Frank Habineza of the opposition Democratic Green Party and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Kagame is widely expected to win.

According to electoral laws, independent presidential candidates are required to present 600 signatures, with at least 12 from each of Rwanda's 30 districts.

Rwigara was excluded from the race for submitting signatures of some people who have been long dead and others who belong to a rival political party, Mbanda said.

Amnesty International said the East African nation has seen two decades of often deadly attacks on political opponents, journalists and rights activists. The group called for serious political reforms.

"Since the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front took power 23 years ago, Rwandans have faced huge, and often deadly, obstacles to participating in public life and voicing criticism of government policy," said Muthoni Wanyeki, an Amnesty official in East Africa.

Many killings and disappearances have been blamed on the government of Kagame, who has been Rwanda's de facto leader or elected president since the end of the country's 1994 genocide.

Kagame is credited with leading Rwanda to stability and impressive economic growth, but critics say he is an authoritarian who is intolerant of legitimate opposition.