July 16, 2010 / 6:06 PM / 9 years ago

Spanish PM calls off meeting with Rwandan president

(Adds U.N. comment on Ban Ki-moon meeting with Kagame)

By Teresa Larraz

MADRID, July 16 (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled out of a meeting with President Paul Kagame on Friday after receiving a petition alleging the Rwandan leader has violated human rights, an ally of Zapatero said.

The two leaders had been scheduled as drivers of the Millennium Development Goals — a United Nations initiative to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce infant mortality along with other goals by 2015.

"The prime minister yesterday received a petition from various political groups saying that they didn’t think it was appropriate for the meeting to take place," Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said on Spanish television.

She said Zapatero had been "sensitive" to the petition and would meet other political parties to explain why he had decided not see Kagame.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos took Zapatero’s place at the meeting, which was also attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In New York, the United Nations said Ban had raised human rights concerns with Kagame.

"The secretary-general ... noted the upcoming elections in Rwanda and expressed concern about recent incidents causing political tensions," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

"He stressed the need to uphold human rights. The secretary-general encouraged the Rwandan authorities to take immediate action, including a thorough investigation into the latest incidents, and to bring the perpetrators to justice."

An aspiring Rwandan opposition politician, Democratic Green Party vice president Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, was found murdered this week. Rwandan police said on Friday they had arrested a business associate of Rwisereka as a potential witness.

Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994 when his victory over Hutu extremists ended mass genocide there. He was initially hailed as a hero, but critics have since accused him of trampling on political and press freedoms.

The government rejects the accusations, saying it has pursued dialogue and accepted opposing views since the 1994 genocide. Kagame is expected to win re-election in August.

In 2008, a Spanish judge issued a writ accusing Kagame of crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism. The court did not issue an indictment, however, since Kagame has immunity as a head of state.

Two years earlier, a French judge accused Kagame and nine aides of shooting down former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane in April 1994 — the catalyst for the killing of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in less than 100 days. (Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Writing by Alice Tozer; editing by Fiona Ortiz and Vicki Allen)

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