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Rusesabagina Arrives in US

FILE: In this photo taken on November 09, 2005, then-US President George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, to Rwandan hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in the East Room of the White House in Washington

WASHINGTON - Outspoken Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, whose efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide inspired the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda," has arrived in the United States after being freed from prison, the White House said Wednesday.

"I'm pleased to welcome Paul Rusesabagina back to the United States. We're glad to have him back on US soil & reunited with his family & friends who've long waited for this day to come," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted.

Rusesabagina was released on March 25 after more than 900 days behind bars, under an accord, mediated by Qatar, between the US government and Rwanda which saw the Kigali government commute his 25-year sentence on terrorism charges.

His detention had thrown a spotlight on Rwanda's record of crushing political dissent and free speech under President Paul Kagame.

Rusesabagina was convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group after a trial that his supporters denounced as a sham.

The 68-year-old, who is also a Belgian citizen with US permanent residency, has been in failing health and his family said he was tortured during his 939 days in detention.

Rusesabagina was a hotel manager who helped save hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide. His story was turned into "Hotel Rwanda" featuring Don Cheadle.

But Rusesabagina became a fierce critic of Rwanda's longtime leader Kagame and formed his own political party.

Rusesabagina left Rwanda in 1996 for Belgium but his family said he was tricked into taking a flight in 2020 that was diverted to Kigali.

Talks on releasing him started at the end of 2022 and final details were hammered out last week when Kagame met Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in Doha, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said.

In an October 2022 letter released by the government on Friday, Rusesabagina pledged to leave "Rwandan politics behind me" and spend the rest of his life in the United States in exchange for clemency.

US President Joe Biden had earlier welcomed Rusesabagina's release, calling it a "happy outcome."

"Paul's family is eager to welcome him back to the United States, and I share their joy at today's good news," he said in a statement on March 25.