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Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina goes on trial in Kigali

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The government critic is accused of several crimes, including terrorism, and could face 25 years in prison if convicted.

Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose story inspired the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda, has gone on trial in a closely-watched case in Kigali where he stands accused of several crimes, including terrorism.

A longtime critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina had been living abroad for years before appearing in the capital under arrest in mysterious circumstances in October

His family and lawyers say he was abducted overseas and brought back to Rwanda illegally. They say that as he is an outspoken government critic, he cannot receive a fair trial there and that he has not been allowed to meet with international lawyers.

If convicted, Rusesabagina  faces a maximum of 25 years in prison.The former hotelier, who was depicted as a hero by actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 film, has been charged with 13 offences including terrorism for starting an armed group in recent years that is accused of staging deadly attacks within Rwanda.

He appeared in court alongside 20 others facing similar charges for supporting the banned outfit, the National Liberation Front (FLN). The accused all wore face masks and the pink standard-issue uniforms assigned to defendants in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina has not taken a plea.

“Rusesabagina has said, through his lawyers, that he is not a Rwandan citizen but a Belgian national,” he said. “This is significant because it is going to determine how the court is going to handle his case. He also says that the High Court division that handles cross-border crimes is not competent to handle his case. He wants his case moved to Belgium,”

Prosecutor Bonaventure Ruberwa said Rusesabagina had dual citizenship and could therefore be charged by either state.

In exile, Rusesabagina headed the opposition Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) and has admitted in court that he was one of the founders of the FLN, which has claimed deadly attacks in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina, however, also said he never supported any violence.

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