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  1. ITV Report

Leaders gather in Rwanda to mark 25 years since 800,000 massacred in genocide

Wreathes have been laid and tributes paid as Rwanda commemorates 25 years since the start of its 100-day genocide which saw 800,000 people massacred.

President Paul Kagame and first lady Jeannette Kagame, along with other foreign leaders, laid wreaths and lit a flame at the mass burial ground of 250,000 victims at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in the capital, Kigali.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, centre, with First Lady Jeannette Kagame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali Credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis

The ceremonies happened as the country continues to grapple with the lasting consequences of the mass killings.

Family photographs of some of the children who died at an exhibition at the Kigali Genocide Memorial centre in the capital Kigali Credit: AP

In a speech commemorating those killed, but looking ahead to his country's future, Mr Kagame said: "In 1994 there was no hope, only darkness.

"Today light radiates from this place.

"To survivors we can only say: thank you.

"Your resilience and bravery represent the triumph of the Rwandan character in its purest form."

Those attending included the leaders of Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Niger, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, as well as the African Union and the European Union.

Cherie Blair, wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, also attended.

Skulls of those who were massacred as they sought refuge in a church. Credit: AP

“I am moved beyond words at this memorial to tragedy,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

There will be a procession through the capital to Kigali’s National Stadium where up to 30,000 are expected to participate in an evening candlelit ceremony.

A flame of remembrance is lit at the ceremony Credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis

“Twenty-five years ago, Rwanda fell into a deep ditch due to bad leadership.

"Today, we are a country of hope and a nation elevated,” Agnes Mutamba, 25, a teacher who was born during the genocide said.

“Today, the government has united all Rwandans as one people with the same culture and history and is speeding up economic transformation,” said Oliver Nduhungihere, Rwanda’s state foreign affairs minister.

The mass killing of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority was ignited on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, killing the leader who, like the majority of Rwandans, was an ethnic Hutu.

The Tutsi minority was blamed for downing the plane and the bands of Hutu extremists began slaughtering the Tutsi, with support from the army, police, and militias.

Cherie Blair was among those who arrived to lay wreaths at the event Credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Kagame’s government has previously accused the Hutu-led government of 1994 of being responsible for shooting down the plane and has blamed the French government for turning a blind eye to the genocide.

Kagame has won praise ending that violence and making advances in economic development and health care, although he is criticised for authoritarian control.

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a government study into the country’s role in Rwanda before and during its 1994 genocide.

A quarter-century after the genocide, bodies of victims are still being found.

Last year, authorities in Rwanda found discovered mass graves they say contain 5,400 bodies of genocide victims.

“Twenty-five years on, the victims and survivors should remain the centre of everyone’s thoughts, but we should also take stock of progress and the need to ensure accountability for all those who directed these horrific acts,” Human Rights Watch said.