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Kenya's police shoot at protesters as they storm parliament against new taxes

Protesters scatter as Kenyan police spray water canon at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday.
Brian Inganga
Protesters scatter as Kenyan police spray water canon at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday.

Updated June 25, 2024 at 17:57 PM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya — Several people were killed and hundreds injured as thousands of demonstrators stormed Kenya’s parliament to protest a controversial tax bill on Tuesday.

Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.

At least three of the dead were shot as protesters overwhelmed police as they entered and set fire to parts of the parliament buildings.

Addressing the nation, Kenyan President William Ruto called the storming of parliament promised to prevent it from happening again “at whatever cost."

The protests forced lawmakers to flee the legislature where earlier they had debated and passed the unpopular bill.

The legislation proposes to significantly increase the cost of goods and services in Kenya to help pay off foreign debt — and has sparked widespread outrage in the East African country.

Live footage showed protesters entering the national assembly and senate chambers and grabbing the ceremonial maces from both houses.

Demonstrators scatter during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday.
Brian Inganga / AP
Demonstrators scatter during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday.

Demonstrators also targeted and torched City Hall of the capital Nairobi.

“We earnestly appeal to the police not to shoot the protesters. No one should lose his or her life,” said the country’s influential Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops as they appealed for calm.

Two people died in similar protests last week in Nairobi.

Human rights groups have accused the Kenyan police of heavy-handed tactics in the past and again during these protests. The Kenyan Human Rights Commission shared a video of police shooting at protesters and strongly condemned the actions.

The cost of living in Kenya has soared in the past few years, with prices of food and fuel spiraling.

The new bill proposes raising taxes on goods as varied as bread, cooking oil and sanitary items. After the initial protests last week, some proposals were dropped, but the amended bill was voted in on Tuesday morning. It now awaits President Ruto’s approval.

The protests were initially peacefully, with hundreds of young people chanting “We are peaceful, we are peaceful!” to the police who were armed in riot gear and deployed heavily across the city.

The protests have largely been organized online by the youth calling themselves “Gen Z,” who say the proposed law will increase the cost of living for millions already struggling.

Marches were also held in the coastal cities of Mombasa and Malindi and in other towns across the country, including Rift Valley, which voted hugely for Ruto in the August 2022 elections.

They waved placards and chanted “Ruto must go!”

The government says the finance bill will help it raise funds to pay of foreign debt that now stands at more than $80 billion borrowed mainly from China, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Earlier Kenyans woke up to reports of dawn arrests of several young people associated with the protests.

Opposition lawmakers told the parliament speaker that at least seven young men had been picked up by armed security agents hours before Tuesday’s march and have not been heard from since.

“The speaker must advise the house on what we should do because those abducted include my own staff,” said parliament minority leader Opiyo Wandayi.

This is despite President Ruto and Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki stating that the demonstrators’ right to picket is protected by the country’s constitution.

But both the president and the minister fell short of condemning the killing of two of the protesters during last weeks’s protests, that were largely peaceful. They have also not commented on the abductions captured on CCTV nor the use of force by police during protests.

Tuesday’s unrest follows a day in which the White House formally designated Kenya a major non-NATO ally, a month after President Ruto’s state visit to Washington. That designation comes with new trade benefits between the countries.

“We condemn the violence reporting during protests in Nairobi and around Kenya. We mourn the loss of life and injuries sustained and offer our condolences to the families who lost loved ones,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Tuesday. “We urge restraint to restore order and provide space for dialogue.”

Diplomats from the U.S. and European countries issued a joint statement saying they were “shocked” by the unrest and concerned about allegations of abductions.

The unrest also unfolded as hundreds of Kenyan police officers deployed to Haiti to lead a United Nations-backed multinational force against the powerful gangs that have destabilized the Caribbean country.

But back in Kenya, the protests that started in the capital Nairobi as opposition to the proposed Finance Bill 2024 have quickly spread countrywide and morphed into a revolt against the president and the political class, who face accusations of corruption and overtaxing Kenyans.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Emmanuel Igunza
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