By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Rwandans on Tuesday observed the 26th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group, with events limited due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The week of national mourning will last until April 13 under the theme, Remember, Unite, Renew.
In a brief national ceremony, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame laid wreaths on graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital Kigali, where the remains of more than 250,000 genocide victims were buried.
Fewer people attended the ceremony this year, with similar events banned for the first time in other parts of the country, due to a lockdown until April 19 to stem the spread of COVID-19.
The coronavirus has infected 105 people in the east African country, four of whom have been cured.
Ahead of the anniversary, the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide advised people to observe the week-long mourning through the media.
In a televised address, Kagame acknowledged that this year's commemoration would not be easy for survivors, families and the country because people would not be able gather in national ceremonies to comfort one another due to COVID-19 lockdown.
The National ceremonies that were cancelled include the Walk to Remember, which normally attracted thousands of marchers on April 7, as well as a night vigil and remembrance ceremony on April 13 commemorating Rwandan politicians killed in the genocide.
"But, the current unusual circumstances will not prevent us from fulfilling our obligation to commemorate this solemn anniversary, honor those we lost and console survivors. The only change is the way we commemorate," Kagame said.
"The lessons of our history have united us. They teach us the value of good leadership that cares for the well-being of all citizens. We learned the importance of working together to build a better future for all Rwandans," he added.
Underlining that all people across the world are interconnected, Kagame said: "We'll continue to contribute to making the world a better place by sharing our story and ideas."
Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the head of IBUKA, an umbrella association of genocide survivors in the country, appealed to Rwandans to collaborate during this period, especially in handling trauma related cases.
Elsewhere, in a message to mark Tuesday's International Day of Reflection, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: "Since the genocide, Rwanda has demonstrated that it is possible to rise from the ashes, to heal and to rebuild a stronger and more sustainable society."
"We must never again let such an atrocity occur. We must say 'no' to hate speech and xenophobia and reject the forces of polarization, nationalism and protectionism," said Guterres.
The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi began on April 7, 1994, and claimed more than a million lives, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, within a period of 100 days.
After appearing in China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 184 countries and regions, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Over 1.39 million cases have been reported worldwide, with Europe being the worst-hit.
The global death toll is over 79,000 and more than 295,600 people have recovered around the world so far.