People hold candles in remembrance at a vigil at Amahoro Stadium (Photo: AFP)
(BBC News) Rwanda’s president said the country had become “a family once again”, while marking the 25th anniversary of the genocide that killed 800,000 people.
Paul Kagame, who led a rebel force that ended the slaughter, lit a remembrance flame in the capital Kigali.
Rwandans will mourn for 100 days, the time it took in 1994 for about a tenth of the country to be massacred.
Most of those who died were minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, killed by ethnic Hutu extremists.
“In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness,” Mr Kagame told a crowd gathered at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are thought to be buried.
“Today, light radiates from this place. How did it happen? Rwanda became a family once again.”
How is Rwanda remembering?
The commemoration activities began with the flame-lighting ceremony at the memorial. The flame will burn for 100 days.
The 61-year-old president, who has led the country since 2000, then delivered a speech at the Kigali Convention Centre.
He said the resilience and bravery of the genocide survivors represented the “Rwandan character in its purest form”.
“The arms of our people, intertwined, constitute the pillars of our nation,” he said. “We hold each other up. Our bodies and minds bear amputations and scars, but none of us is alone.
“Together, we have woven the tattered threads of our unity into a new tapestry.”
He added: “The fighting spirit is alive in us. What happened here will never happen again.”
Mr Kagame then led a vigil at the Amahoro National Stadium, which was used by United Nations officials to try to protect Tutsis during the killings.
About 2,000 people marched together on a walk of remembrance from parliament to the stadium, where candles were lit.
Cries for those who were lost
The BBC’s Flora Drury in Kigali
There was a moment – when all the candles were lit, and their lights bobbed around the stadium, when people were taking pictures with their smartphones – when it was almost possible to forget the horror that brought thousands of people together on this warm evening in Kigali.
But then I turned to the man next to me, and asked him what tonight meant to him.
“Well,” he said, “it’s important.” In the understated way which so many people in Rwanda speak he said: “I lost people. I lost my parents. I lost my siblings.”
We had already heard the names of entire families wiped off the map read out, accompanied by a promise never to forget. We had watched students march in silence from the parliament to the stadium.
But it was as the final speaker took to the stage, to describe how he survived to grow up and give his children the names of the four siblings he had lost, that the emotion seemed to bubble to the surface, and anguished cries were heard above the crowd.
Sometimes on this day, my neighbour said, it is hard to keep the emotions in.