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After spending one year in a Rwandan prison waiting for the country’s high court to decide on her case, Diane Rwigara feared the worst.

The 37-year-old told Sky News: “I will just have to accept it and go to prison because I guess that is the price that you pay for freedom.”

The former financial accountant faced a 22-year spell in jail for “inciting insurrection” and “forgery” after she tried to run in last year’s presidential election against Rwanda’s long-time president Paul Kagame.

Her mother, Adeline, also faced a 22-year term after sending messages that were critical of the government on Whatsapp to her sister and a couple of her friends.

But in a surprise judgment, the court found that both members of the Rwigara family were innocent.

“All charges… have been dropped. The court finds that the prosecution charges were baseless,” said one member of the three-judge panel.

The activist ran for president in 2017
Image:
The activist ran for president in 2017

While the decision will come as a great relief to both women, it will not erase what the pair have been through.

Ms Rwigara’s difficulties began when she declared her candidacy in Rwanda’s 2017 presidential contest.

Her 44-year old campaign manager, Thadeyo Muyenzi, went missing and has still not been found.

Then, nude photos – purportedly of Ms Rwigara – were published and shared on social media.

Finally, the country’s election board banned her from participating after they accused her of forging people’s signatures in support of her bid. Kagame won a third term in office with 98% of the vote.

Paul Kagame is credited with creating stability in Rwanda - but has grown increasingly authoritarian
Image:
Paul Kagame is credited with creating stability in Rwanda – but has grown increasingly authoritarian

Undeterred, the budding politician launched her own political party called the People Salvation Movement, but the police raided the family home – detained the accountant and her mother for the following 12 months.

Speaking to Sky News hours before the verdict was announced, Ms Rwigara said she was targeted by the state because she is prepared to challenge Kagame and his ruling clique.

She added: “This is what happens when you dare to have a different political opinion – a different view from those in the government.

“This is what happens if you don’t disappear like my campaign manager or get thrown into prison or lose your life. So yes, you do pay a price for speaking out in this country.”

Diane Rwigara was found innocent today
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Diane Rwigara was found innocent by a Rwandan court

Paul Kagame, the country’s towering, beanpole-like president, has been widely praised for his role in providing stability and economic growth after Rwanda’s catastrophic genocide in 1994.

However, human rights groups and others have tired of his increasingly autocratic style.

Criticism of the government is rarely tolerated and in 2015, he engineered a constitutional amendment which means he can hold the presidency until 2034.

Amnesty International welcomed the court’s verdict on Diane and Adeline Rwigara but called on the Rwandan government to do more to protect freedom of expression and political debate: “[They] should never have faced charges for expressing their views.

“We call on the Rwandan authorities to build on this judgment and work towards developing greater tolerance and acceptance of alternative and critical views.”

Ms Rwigara, who is described as “fearless” by those close to her, is not about to apologise for attempting to hold Rwanda’s leaders to account. Nor is she likely to stop trying.

“I speak the truth, that the system is built on a lie,” she said. “They simply do not want to be exposed.

“The lie is that everything is well in Rwanda and I just talk about [the reality] which is the high level of unemployment, the high level of poverty, the disappearances, the killings, all that, and they are not ready for that to be exposed.”

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Venezuela: Vigilantes guard shops after looting rampage in Maracaibo | World News

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Vigilantes are standing guard outside stores to prevent looting in Venezuela’s second city, Maracaibo.

A fortnight after the city was plunged into anarchy with hundreds of civilians ransacking more than 500 shops and businesses, the city is still on edge.

It may be no coincidence that the Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has now asked his entire cabinet to resign amid this chaos as he struggles to maintain control.

After nearly 100 hours without power, people in Maracaibo looted food, water, and other items from several grocery stores.
Image:
After nearly 100 hours without power, people in Maracaibo looted food, water and other items from several grocery stores

One looter told Sky News: “I have always been an honest man – and still now, I feel honest. We were driven to this. What can we do?”

The national guard can occasionally be seen parked outside certain large outlets – but it’s mostly down to individual shops to take the law into their own hands.

Looter
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A looter, who did not want to be identified, said they were ‘driven to this’

We met a band of heavily armed men who agreed to talk to us outside one supermarket in the city. “This is Maracaibo,” one heavily tattooed man told us. “We have to do this.” Another said: “It’s them or us. Anyone in our position would do the same.”

It was the long week of a total electricity blackout which finally tipped Maracaibo over into anarchy – a string of days and nights with zero power countrywide.

In broad daylight thousands of people marched into shops in Maracaibo and took what they wanted. The tenuous hold on order in the city was, once and for all, blown apart.

Vigilantes
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A vigilante stands guard

The city’s civilians have struggled under a crumbling infrastructure which has seen many areas without running water for years as well as intermittent power cuts and internet interruptions. Now they had had enough.

And this was different. Every shop owner and hotel manager we spoke to told us how they thought the authorities would step in and help – but no one came.

Many spoke about how the police and collectivos (armed thugs) joined in with the looting. “I stole and then the police stole from me,” one looter told Sky News.

The devastation was extensive at the Hotel Brisas del Norte. Five floors of the hotel were trashed.

Every door was ripped off its hinges. Every ceiling was hacked into and the copper wiring ripped out. Every appliance was taken away; every fitting levered off, including the marble topping on the reception desk.

Supermarket
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Shops, like this supermarket, were left empty of goods and produce by looters

“It was like terrorism,” said Margelis Romero, the hotel administrator. “They came in with their faces covered and carrying machetes and guns and stayed here for several days destroying everything.”

A look inside the Pepsi factory close by shows the warehouse empty but for plastic bags and wrapping covering the floor.

Pepsi factory
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The city’s Pepsi factory has been destroyed

Our movement disturbs three looters still rifling through the debris to see if they can plunder anything else. They run off into the distance. One of them appears to be carrying a stick.

Maracaibo has settled back into an uneasy calm but the city has tasted lawlessness. No one is quite sure what it will take to tip it once again. What they are sure about is: it will happen again if the situation doesn’t improve for its citizens.

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Venezuela: After days of darkness, mob’s orgy of violence has left city in shock | World News

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There’s still a palpable air of shock in Maracaibo.

Venezuela’s second city is still clearing up after an orgy of violence and wanton destruction that ripped through more than five hundred shops and businesses during the nationwide power cuts recently.

At the Hotel Brisas del Norte, they reckon more than 450 doors in the five-storey building were ripped off.

Even the frames were chiselled out. The level of devastation takes your breath away. All the obvious furniture disappeared – the beds, the chairs, the cosy sofas that filled the lounge room; the televisions in the bedrooms.

And then the looters took it to a whole different level.

The carpets have all been ripped up; cables in walls and ceilings have been yanked out. The water in the swimming pool has even been stolen. The marble desk-top on the reception has gone.

Hotel
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Looters ripped out fixtures, fittings, cables and even the hotel’s CCTV system

In one case I saw, they’d punched a hole in the wall and taken out an entire window – and when they found they couldn’t take out the windows, they smashed them instead.

They took down the hotel CCTV; they emptied the offices of all computers. They emptied the hotel of everything.

It’s as if a human hoover has been through there, sucking up everything in its path, sweeping through every room and staircase, taking the mirrors out of the elevators and then using machetes to hack through the ceilings and walls to get to what lies underneath – and steal that too.

The two staff who took us round were aghast at the images.

Supermarket
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Supermarkets were left empty of goods and produce

“This wasn’t hunger. This was vandalism. It’s like terrorism. They came in with guns and machetes and masks and just took everything. We were like a family here,” said Margolis Romero, the hotel administrator.

“Many of the staff lived on the premises and we were the heart of this community,” he added.

Maracaibo is used to power cuts. They’ve been enduring them for years. But this was nationwide and total. The lights never came back on, not for a long week and in some areas longer than that.

On day five of no light, no internet and limited mobile phone service, the mob descended on the hotel and camped there, stripping it of its innards over a day and a half.

The sacking looks frenzied. And this scene is replicated in hundreds of other businesses. In one electronics shop, after stripping it of computers, laptops and phones, the looters set fire to it, reducing it to ashes.

This is where Nicolas Maduro and his regime lost the heart of the Venezuelan people. This is where the poor stood up and wrought a quite terrible revenge for a few days and took what they believe is rightfully theirs.

People picked up guns and weapons and for a while lawlessness prevailed.

In one snippet of mobile phone footage given to us, you can see two police officers desperately trying to stop looters who are running across the road, driving up and down honking horns. There’s the sound of gunfire.

We tracked down a number of looters all very frightened about talking publicly.

Vigilantes
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Vigilantes are guarding shops in Venezuela’s second city

But one 47-year-old man told us he’d run into a supermarket, along with “all of my neighbours”, and hunted for food. “I couldn’t see the food because it was just dark so I just grabbed what I could – a lot of shampoo bottles.”

He said he went into a shoe shop and gathered up about 10-15 pairs of shoes but was stopped by a police officer who threatened to kill him if he didn’t drop the shoes.

A man who hunted for food in a dark supermarket 'just grabbed what he could - a lot of shampoo bottles'
Image:
A man who hunted for food in a dark supermarket ‘just grabbed what he could – a lot of shampoo bottles’

I asked him if the policeman was trying to recover the stolen items. “No!” he replied with a smile. “I stole and he stole from me.”

But this was a man who described himself as honest, who said he’d never stolen anything in his life, who still maintains he is honest.

“This is what Maduro has made us do,” he said ruefully. “This is what Maduro has turned us into.”

The sacking of Maracaibo may well be a seminal moment when the historians look back and realise this was when the criticism and frustration over the Venezuelan leader finally boiled over.

The poor have in the past formed the backbone of his power base. But what happened in Maracaibo has shown the poor have now got a taste for vicious violence and have had enough of misery and deprivation.

The embattled president’s decision to ask his entire cabinet to resign seems to suggest he’s searching for supporters as he struggles to maintain control.

Right now there’s a sort of calm in Maracaibo. Shop owners have positioned vigilantes outside their stores and on the roofs. One Venezuelan told me: “They’re calling what happened the ‘appetiser’. Everyone thinks it will happen again.”

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Jimmy Carter becomes oldest living former US president at 94 | US News

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Jimmy Carter has become the oldest living former US president at the age of 94. 

The 39th president is 172 days past his 94th birthday, making him one day older than former President George HW Bush, who died in November.

The achievement comes more than three years after Mr Carter announced he had a form of skin cancer which had spread to his liver and brain.

He received immunotherapy treatment and has since been in remission.

A spokeswoman for The Carter Centre, which the former president and his wife Rosalynn founded to tackle global human rights issues, said there were “no special celebrations planned”.

Jimmy Carter was US president between 1977 and 1981
Image:
Jimmy Carter was US president between 1977 and 1981

“We at The Carter Centre sure are rooting for him and grateful for his long life of service that has benefited millions of the world’s poorest people,” said Deanna Congileo.

Mr Carter, who began his working life on his family’s peanut farm, served as US president between 1977 and 1981.

The former Democrat only lasted one term in office, after his re-election bid was hurt by a hostage crisis and a struggling economy.

However he has described his work with The Carter Centre as his defining professional achievement.

In 2002, he won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

In a memoir published on his 90th birthday, Mr Carter said: “I spent four of my ninety years in the White House, and they were, of course, the pinnacle of my political life.

Mr Carter said his best achievement was asking his wife to marry him
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Mr Carter said his best achievement was asking his wife to marry him

“Those years, though, do not dominate my chain of memories, and there was never an orderly or planned path to get there during my early life.

“Teaching, writing and helping The Carter Center evolve… seem to constitute the high points in my life.”

And he still claims the best or most significant decision he has ever made was “asking Rosalynn to marry me.”

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