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Originally published March 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 2, 2005 at 10:00 AM

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"Hotel Rwanda" hero: Horror hasn't ended

The capacity crowd at Seattle's Town Hall rose to its feet last night as Paul Rusesabagina, who used his influence as the manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, to save 1,268 people during the 1994 genocide, took the stage.

Seattle Times staff reporter

"Hotel Rwanda" did not win any Oscars Sunday night, but the real-life former hotel manager who inspired the film is using his newfound star power to help shine an international spotlight on the horrors still unfolding in Sudan's Darfur region.

The capacity crowd at Seattle's Town Hall rose to its feet last night as Paul Rusesabagina, who used his influence as the manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, to save 1,268 people during the 1994 genocide, took the stage.

In introducing him, Marilyn Raichle of the Seattle nonprofit booking company Foolproof described the mass murders in Rwanda as "one of the most horrifying events of the 20th century," adding that "nearly 1 million people were slaughtered in 100 days ... but most people didn't know or didn't care."

Rusesabagina, who now owns a transport company in Belgium, is working to establish the Rusesabagina Foundation to help Rwandan women and orphans. He spent Oscar night at a gala in West Hollywood, and the following night, he spoke at the Oakland Museum.

Tonight, Rusesabagina will deliver his speech " 'Hotel Rwanda': A Lesson Yet to Be Learned" in Portland as part of a speaking tour that will crisscross the country through November.

Don Cheadle, who portrays Rusesabagina in "Hotel Rwanda," was nominated for a best-actor Oscar, and Sophie Okonedo, who plays Rusesabagina's Tutsi wife, Tatiana, was nominated for best supporting actress. "Hotel Rwanda" co-writers Terry George and Keir Peterson were nominated for best original screenplay.

Once "Hotel Rwanda" received its Academy Award nominations, interest in Rusesabagina hit "critical mass — it was like, 'Wow, who is this guy?' " said Foolproof's marketing director, Julie Furlong, who added it was no surprise that tickets to the 886-seat Town Hall sold out.

Last night, Rusesabagina said many of the movie's scenes were deadly accurate, while others in the film were much less bloody than real life. He briefly described how European colonists divided and conquered Rwanda by favoring Tutsis over Hutus. Since the late 1950s, violence has broken out along ethnic lines, especially in 1959, 1973 and 1990, he said.

When violence again erupted in April 1994, "the British government, the United States government, the whole world ... closed eyes, closed ears and ran away," Rusesabagina said. "Many people gathered in schools and churches under U.N. protection" and then were slaughtered when the U.N. pulled out of the country.

Rusesabagina called in favors, phoned and faxed foreign officials, bribed and cajoled soldiers, all in an effort to save those who took refuge in the Mille Collines Hotel in the Rwandan capital. "What I saw in Rwanda is almost the same" as what is happening now in the Darfur region of Sudan, Rusesabagina said. Villages are being destroyed and the government militia is hunting people down and killing them, he said.

"Seventy thousand people have been killed. How many people have to be killed for the U.N. to call genocide by its own name?" he asked.

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"What's happening in Sudan is what has been happening in the Congo," Rusesabagina said. "Sub-Saharan Africa is burning. All of it is on fire."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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