Tuesday , July 23 2024

Five killed during Kenya anti-tax protests – NGOs

Five people were shot dead and dozens wounded in Kenya on Tuesday in mounting anti-tax hike protests, NGOs said, after police clashed with demonstrators who stormed the parliament compound in Nairobi.

The military has been deployed to support police, who earlier fired tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and — according to a rights group — live ammunition against protesters, as tensions sharply escalated in protests that have caught the government off guard.

“Despite the assurance by the government that the right to assembly would be protected and facilitated, today’s protests have spiraled into violence,” several NGOs, including Amnesty Kenya, said a joint statement that reported the dead and wounded.

The White House appealed for calm and more than 10 Western nations — including Canada, Germany and Britain — said they were “especially shocked by the scenes witnessed outside the Kenyan Parliament”.

Mainly youth-led rallies have galvanised outrage over proposed tax hikes and simmering anger over a cost-of-living crisis to fuel rapidly growing demonstrations.

“This is the voice of the young people of Kenya,” said Elizabeth Nyaberi, 26, a lawyer at a protest. “They are tear gassing us, but we don’t care.”

“We are here to speak for our generations and the generations to come,” she added.

The protests had been largely peaceful, but chaos erupted in the capital Tuesday, with crowds throwing stones at police, pushing past barricades and ultimately entering the grounds of Kenya’s parliament.

Amid the clashes, global web monitor NetBlocks reported that a “major disruption” had hit the country’s internet service.

In the aftermath of the parliament compound breach, local TV showed images of ransacked rooms with smashed windows, while cars parked outside were vandalised and flags destroyed, according to an AFP reporter.

The governor’s office in Nairobi City Hall — just a few hundred metres from parliament — was set alight, footage on privately owned Citizen TV showed, with a water cannon attempting to douse the fire.

After reports that live ammunition was fired at protesters, Kenya’s main opposition coalition, Azimio, said the government had “unleashed brute force on our country’s children”.

“Kenya cannot afford to kill its children just because the children are asking for food, jobs and a listening ear,” it said in a statement.

The military’s deployment was “in response to the security emergency” across Kenya, Defence Minister Aden Bare Duale said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, despite the heavy police presence, thousands of protesters had marched peacefully through Nairobi’s business district, pushing back against barricades as they headed towards parliament.

As protesters gained ground in their push towards parliament, many were livestreaming the action as they sang and beat drums.

Crowds also marched in the port city of Mombasa, the opposition bastion of Kisumu, and Kenyan President William Ruto’s stronghold of Eldoret, images on Kenyan TV channels showed.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority watchdog and rights groups said two people had died following last week’s rallies in Nairobi.

Several organisations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were wounded in last week’s protests in Nairobi.

Amnesty’s Kenya chapter posted on X Tuesday that “the pattern of policing protests is deteriorating fast”, urging the government to respect demonstrators’ right to assembly.

Rights watchdogs have also accused the authorities of abducting protesters.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission said the abductions had mostly occurred at night and were “conducted by police officers in civilian clothes and unmarked cars”, calling for the “unconditional release of all abductees”.

Police have not responded to AFP requests for comment on the allegations.

Fuel price hikes 

The cash-strapped government agreed last week to roll back several tax increases.

But it still intends to raise other taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.

Kenya has a huge debt mountain whose servicing costs have ballooned because of a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, making interest payments on foreign-currency loans more expensive.

The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with well-paid jobs remaining out of reach for many young people.

After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.56 billion).

The government now intends to target an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.

Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 52 million people live in poverty.



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