By IGNATIUS SSUUNA, Associated Press

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwandans have begun a solemn commemoration of the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu who tried to protect them were killed.

President Paul Kagame on Thursday laid a wreath at a memorial site where more than 250,000 people are buried in the capital, Kigali. The ceremony marked the beginning of a week of dark events.

Kagame said he opposed any attempt to rewrite the history of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The killings were carried out by extremist Hutus over a period of 100 days.

Some rights groups have accused Kagame’s soldiers of carrying out killings during and after the genocide as an apparent form of revenge, but Rwandan authorities strongly deny the allegation.

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Kagame said his group showed restraint in the face of the genocide.

“Imagine people being hunted down day and night for who they are. Also imagine if those of us who bore arms, if we had allowed ourselves to pursue those who were killing our people indiscriminately,” he said. “First of all, we would be right to do so. But we didn’t. We spared them. Some of them still live today, in their homes, their villages. Others are in government and business.

Kagame, who is widely credited with stopping the genocide, has become a polarizing figure over the years as his critics accuse him of leading an authoritarian government that crushes all dissent. But he is also praised by many for presiding over the relative political stability allowing the Rwandan economy to grow.

The massacre of Tutsi was sparked on April 6 when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, killing the leader who, like most Rwandans, was a Hutu.

The Tutsi were accused of shooting down the plane and, although they denied it, bands of Hutu extremists began killing them, including children, with the support of the army, the police and militias.

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