(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cabinet approves ban on main opposition party

The Rwandan government endorsed a parliamentary report on Monday that called for the banning of the main opposition party in the country, the Mouvement democratique republicain (MDR), ahead of the country's first post-genocide elections.

"We call upon the relevant authorities to implement these recommendations in accordance to the specified laws," the cabinet reported.

Parliament voted on Thursday to dissolve the party after a parliamentary commission accused it of propagating a "divisive" ideology.

The report named 47 individuals, including two government ministers and five Members of Parliament in the transitional national assembly. The MDR, of which Prime Minister Bernard Makuza is a member, is one of eight parties in the transitional government of national unity that comes to an end in July.

The survival of the MDR will now depend on the decision that the country's constitutional court makes, although analysts predict that its chances for survival diminished with the cabinet's approval of the report.

The parliamentary report also accused the MDR of secretly mobilising a pro-Hutu youth wing, the "Itara", which the report said was similar to the 1994 "Interahamwe" militia group that largely executed the genocide.

Since parliament's recommendation to ban the MDR, human rights groups have criticised the Rwandan government for what they termed a "government-orchestrated crackdown on the political opposition", before presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held later in 2003. The Rwandan government has rejected the allegation.

In a recent report, human rights NGO Amnesty International (AI) said: "The recent purge of MDR party members and alleged supporters prior to a scheduled [26] May constitutional referendum along with the August presidential and October parliamentary elections, is a blatant infringement of these individuals' human rights."

Another NGO, New-York based Human Rights Watch also accused the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front of working to eliminate any opposition to its victory in the elections.

President Paul Kagame recently asked one of the cabinet ministers accused in the report to resign.

Observers believe that the cabinet's decision to ban the party could be a setback to the opposition in Rwanda. Former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, who has declared his intention contest the presidency, was to have contested on an MDR ticket.

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