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Last Updated: Friday, 6 April 2007, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Rwanda ex-leader freed from jail
Pasteur Bizimungu while in court in 2002
Bizimungu said his conviction was "politically motivated"
Former Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu has been released from jail after being given a presidential pardon three years into a 15-year sentence.

He had been found guilty of trying to form a militia, inciting ethnic violence and embezzlement.

Mr Bizimungu became president in 1994, after the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

But he resigned after falling out with rebel leader Paul Kagame, who later took over as president.

I am overwhelmed with emotion
Pasteur Bizimungu

Mr Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took control of Rwanda in July 1994, putting an end to the genocide organised by extremist Hutu leaders.

Mr Bizimungu criticised his former colleagues of an unwarranted crackdown on dissent.

Last year, Rwanda's Supreme Court rejected an appeal against his sentence.

'Good gesture'

"I want to thank the president of the republic for the pardon he has granted to me," Mr Bizimungu told reporters as he left prison.

"And I'd like to beg from you to spare me questions because I am tired and I am overwhelmed by emotion - so I can't talk more," he said.

His release comes the day before ceremonies to mark the 13th anniversary of the start of the genocide.

"It's a good gesture, it's done in good faith, it's done for the good," Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Bizimungu was one of only a handful of Hutus to join the RPF, the rebel movement formed among Tutsi exiles in Uganda.

After his resignation in 2000, Mr Bizimungu became a vocal critic of the RPF-led government.

While the RPF says it has introduced stability and multiparty democracy, its critics claim it has centralised power within a Tutsi elite and crushed potential opponents - by accusing them of promoting ethnic divisions.




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