Kenya's William Ruto vows 'full' response after deadly anti-tax protests | World News - Hindustan Times

Kenya's William Ruto vows 'full' response after deadly anti-tax protests

Jun 26, 2024 01:01 AM IST

Chaos erupted in capital Nairobi on Tuesday, with crowds throwing stones at police and entering the grounds of parliament.

Kenya's President William Ruto vowed to take a tough line against "violence and anarchy" on Tuesday, after protests against his government's proposed tax hikes turned deadly and demonstrators ransacked parliament.

Protesters scatter as police fire tear gas at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, June. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Protesters scatter as police fire tear gas at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, June. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

The youth-led protests, which have steadily grown over the past two weeks, had been largely peaceful but chaos erupted in the capital on Tuesday, with crowds throwing stones at police, pushing past barricades and ultimately entering the grounds of Kenya's parliament.

The military has been deployed to support police who fired tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and according to a rights group live ammunition against protesters.

Five people were shot dead and 31 wounded, several NGOs including Amnesty Kenya reported in a joint statement.

"We shall provide a full, effective and expeditious response to today's treasonous events," Ruto told a press briefing in Nairobi, saying the demonstrations were "hijacked by dangerous people".

"It is not in order or even conceivable that criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters can reign terror against the people, their elected representatives and the institutions established under our constitution and expect to go scot-free," Ruto added.

"I hereby put on notice the planners, financiers, orchestrators, abetters of violence and anarchy."

The White House appealed for calm and 13 Western nations including Canada, Germany and Britain said they were "especially shocked" by the scenes outside 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 that have caught the government off guard.

"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.

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.

Despite the heavy police presence, thousands of protesters had earlier marched peacefully through Nairobi's business district, many livestreaming the action as they sang and beat drums in their push towards parliament.

Crowds also marched in the port city of Mombasa, the opposition bastion of Kisumu, and 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.

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

But it still intends to raise other taxes to fill the void left by the changes, including on fuel prices and export taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.

Critics say the move will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation and where well-paid jobs are out-of-reach for many young Kenyans.

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

The country 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.

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 .

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