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By Robert Walker  BBC Focus on Africa, Kigali


Faustin Twagiramungu

Twagiramungu promised lower taxes and more jobs

The main opposition candidate in Rwanda's upcoming presidential elections - Faustin Twagiramungu - held his first campaign rally on Saturday.

He is one of three candidates challenging incumbent President Paul Kagame, the candidate of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The rally was the first key test of support for Mr Twagiramungu, who has claimed the RPF have tried to intimidate his supporters.

Although only a few thousand people attended, his allies will see today's rally as an encouraging first step on which to build.

Rousing welcome

Faustin Twagiramungu's bid for the presidency was fully launched with his first public rally at Nyamirambo stadium on the edge of Kigali.

A crowd of around 3,000 supporters gave him a rousing welcome.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda

President Kagame is running for re-election

There was a low-key police presence and Mr Twagiramungu was greeted on his arrival by the mayor of Nyamirambo and two Rwandan army generals.

He began his speech with a request for a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the Rwandan genocide, those killed in the war in Congo and the assassinated former Minister of Interior, Seth Sendashonga.

In a hard-hitting speech, Mr Twagiramungu set out the main elements of his campaign programme.

He made a populist call for fairer taxes - joking that currently even goats and chickens pay taxes in Rwanda.

He promised to reduce the number of jobless if elected.

And said he would open up state employment to all, claiming it is currently dominated by RPF members.

Release call

Mr Twagiramungu cited cases of individuals he said had disappeared during the RPF-led transitional government - and called on the government to explain their fate.

He also called for the release of jailed former President, Pasteur Bizimungu, and for Rwandan King Kigeli to be allowed to return from over 40 years in exile.

The address went down well with his supporters, many of whom caught their first glimpse of the former prime minister since his return from exile in June.

For his part, Mr Twagiramungu said he was encouraged with the size of the turn-out and the crowd's reaction.

Attendance was small compared to the packed rallies addressed by the RPF's candidate - incumbent President Kagame - in this first week of campaigning.

But it exceeded many expectations given Mr Twagiramungu's limited campaign resources and the lack of significant publicity for the event.

The RPF, who until now have been dominant on the ground in the campaign, will be watching with interest to see how Mr Twagiramungu's support base develops in the two weeks remaining before the elections.

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