PRESIDENT Paul Kagame and first lady Jeannette Kagame laid wreaths and lit a flame at a mass burial ground as Rwanda marked the 25th anniversary of the start of the country’s genocide in which some 800,000 people were killed.

The ceremony was held at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in the capital, Kigali, where an estimated 250,000 victims are buried.

The ceremonies happened as the country continues to grapple with the lasting consequences of the mass killings.

Those attending included the leaders of Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Niger, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, as well as the African Union and the European Union.

Cherie Blair, wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, also attended.

“I am moved beyond words at this memorial to tragedy,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

Up to 30,000 people took part in a procession to Kigali’s National Stadium to participate in an evening candlelit ceremony.

Agnes Mutamba, 25, a teacher who was born during the genocide, said: “Twenty-five years ago, Rwanda fell into a deep ditch due to bad leadership. Today, we are a country of hope and a nation elevated.”

Oliver Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s state foreign affairs minister said: “Today, the government has united all Rwandans as one people with the same culture and history and is speeding up economic transformation.”

A quarter-century after the genocide, bodies of victims are still being found. Last year, authorities in Rwanda found mass graves they say contain 5400 bodies of genocide victims. Human Rights Watch said: “Twenty-five years on, the victims and survivors should remain the centre of everyone’s thoughts, but we should also take stock of progress and the need to ensure accountability for all those who directed these horrific acts.”

The mass killing of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority was ignited on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, killing the leader who, like the majority of Rwandans, was an ethnic Hutu.

The Tutsi minority was blamed for downing the plane and bands of Hutu extremists began slaughtering the Tutsi, with support from the army, police, and militias.

Kagame’s government has previously accused the Hutu-led government of 1994 of being responsible for shooting down the plane and has blamed the French government for turning a blind eye to the genocide.

Kagame has won praise for ending that violence and making advances in economic development and health care, although he is criticised for authoritarian control.