Rwandan priest with political ambitions says barred from returning

By Clement Uwiringiyimana KIGALI (Reuters) - A Catholic priest who planned to return to Rwanda to register an opposition party and run for president in 2017 was barred from boarding a flight to Kigali on Wednesday, he and his supporters said in a statement. Father Thomas Nahimana, 45, who left Rwanda 11 years ago saying he feared for his safety, and three others in his team were stopped from boarding a connecting flight in Nairobi, they said. Nahimana's planned return was less than a year after a referendum approved a constitutional change to let President Paul Kagame stay on until 2034, if he wins elections. Kagame's government has been praised for transforming a nation that was torn apart by genocide in 1994, but it has also faced criticism from international rights groups and Western donors for stifling free speech, a charge it denies. "As we were preparing to embark, we were greatly surprised to be given the message by Kenya Airways' agents that Rwanda's government had just denied us the right to board this flight and the right of entry to Rwandan territory," according to the statement distributed to journalists in Rwanda. There was no immediate government comment. Nahimana's supporters said he had planned to register his Ishema party, which he set up while abroad, after his arrival and also intended to run in the 2017 presidential election. They said his party's goal was to "unite the Rwandans". Rwanda has one registered opposition party, the Democratic Green Party, but it has no seats in parliament. There are several other parties, but experts say they all broadly back Kagame's ruling party and do not offer any real opposition. Another opposition politician, Victoire Ingabire, returned to Rwanda from abroad to contest the 2010 presidential vote and was subsequently convicted of crimes linked to genocide denial in 2012 and jailed for eight years. Rwandan non-governmental organisation Ibuka, which supports genocide survivors, had called for Nahimana to be arrested on arrival. The group and officials had accused Nahimana of being a genocide revisionist. The Rwandan Catholic church has said Nahimana does not represent the church's position. In 1994, 800,000 people from the ethnic Tutsi minority as well as moderates from the Hutu majority were massacred. Kagame, a Tutsi, led a rebel force into Kigali in 1994 to halt the slaughter. Nahimana, a Hutu, has called Kagame's government a dictatorship and has in the past called for both Tutsi and Hutu victims of the genocide to be remembered, accusing Kagame's ruling party of neglecting the memory of Hutus killed. (Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alison Williams)