Five dead as protesters invade Kenyan parliament

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Police fired on demonstrators trying to storm Kenya’s legislature on Tuesday and at least five protesters were shot dead, with sections of the parliament building set ablaze as lawmakers inside passed a bill to raise taxes.

Reuters reports that in chaotic scenes, protesters overwhelmed police and chased them away in an attempt to storm the parliament compound, with Citizen TV reporting protesters had managed to enter the Senate chamber.

Police opened fire after tear gas and water cannon failed to disperse the crowds.

Kenya’s army has been deployed to support the police in controlling the “security emergency” which has resulted in the “destruction and breaching of critical infrastructure,” Defence Minister Aden Duale said on Tuesday in the official gazette, Reuters reports.

A Reuters journalist counted the bodies of at least five protesters outside parliament.

According to Reuters, the Kenya Medical Association said in a statement that at least five had been shot dead while treating the injured, saying 31 people had been injured, with 13 shot with live bullets and four with rubber bullets.

The association called on authorities to establish safe medical corridors to protect medical staff and ambulances.

Police eventually managed to drive the protesters from the building amid clouds of tear gas and the sound of gunfire. The lawmakers were evacuated through underground tunnels, local media reported.In Washington, the White House said the United States was closely monitoring the situation in Nairobi and urging calm, Reuters reports.

Reuters reports that ambassadors and high commissioners from countries including Britain, the U.S. and Germany said in a joint statement they were deeply concerned by violence they had witnessed during recent anti-tax protests and called for restraint on all sides.

Kenyan activist Auma Obama, the half-sister of former U.S. President Barack Obama, was among protesters tear-gassed during the demonstrations, a CNN interview showed.

Internet services across the East African country experienced severe disruptions during the police crackdown, internet monitor Netblocks said. Kenya’s leading network operator Safaricom said outages had affected two of its undersea cables but the root cause of the disruptions remained unclear, Reuters reports.

Protests and clashes also took place in several other cities and towns across Kenya, with many calling for President William Ruto to quit office as well as voicing their opposition to the tax rises.

Reuters reports that parliament approved the finance bill, moving it through to a third reading by lawmakers. The next step is for the legislation to be sent to the president for signing. He can send it back to parliament if he has any objections.

Ruto won an election almost two years ago on a platform of championing Kenya’s working poor, but has been caught between the competing demands of lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, which is urging the government to cut deficits to obtain more funding, and a hard-pressed population.

Kenyans have struggled with several economic shocks caused by the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war, two years of droughts and depreciation of the currency, Reuters reports.

The finance bill aims to raise an additional $2.7 billion in taxes as part of an effort to lighten Kenya’s heavy debt load, with interest payments alone consuming 37% of annual revenue.

“Ruto must go, Ruto must resign, he must do the honourable thing,” senior opposition leader Eugene Wamalwa said in a statement on TV.

Another opposition leader, Raila Odinga, urged the immediate withdrawal of the finance bill to make way for dialogue, Reuters reports.

“I am disturbed at the murders, arrests, detentions and surveillance being perpetrated by police on boys and girls who are only seeking to be heard over taxation policies that are stealing both their present and future,” he said in a statement.

Reuters reports that the government has made some concessions, promising to scrap proposed new taxes on bread, cooking oil, car ownership and financial transactions. But that has not been enough for protesters.

Tuesday’s protests began in a festival-like atmosphere but as crowds swelled, police fired tear gas in Nairobi’s Central Business District and the poor neighbourhood of Kibera. Protesters ducked for cover and threw stones at police lines.

According to Reuters, police also fired tear gas in Eldoret, Ruto’s hometown in western Kenya, where crowds of protesters filled the streets and many businesses were closed for fear of violence.

Further clashes broke out in the coastal city of Mombasa and demonstrations were held in Kisumu, on Lake Victoria, and Garissa in eastern Kenya, where police blocked the main road to neighbouring Somalia’s port of Kismayu.

In Nairobi, people chanted “Ruto must go” and crowds sang in Swahili: “All can be possible without Ruto”. Music played from loudspeakers and protesters waved Kenyan flags and blew whistles in the few hours before the violence escalated.

Police did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Thousands had taken to the streets of Nairobi and several other cities during two days of protests last week as an online, youth-led movement gathered momentum, Reuters reports.

Protests in Kenya have usually been called by political leaders who have been amenable to negotiated settlements, but the young Kenyans in the current demonstrations have no official leader and have been growing increasingly bold in their demands.

While protesters initially focused on the finance bill, their demands have broadened to demand Ruto’s resignation.

Reuters reports that the opposition declined to participate in the vote in parliament, shouting “reject, reject” when the house went through the items one by one. The bill will then be subjected to a third and final vote by acclamation on the floor of the house.

The finance ministry says amendments would blow a 200 billion Kenyan shilling ($1.56 billion) hole in the 2024/25 budget, and compel the government to make spending cuts or raise taxes elsewhere.

Amid the unrest, Kenya’s sovereign dollar bonds slid on Tuesday afternoon, Tradeweb data showed. The 2034 maturity fell the most, trading 0.6 cents lower at 74.7 cents on the dollar, Reuters reports.

“They are budgeting for corruption,” said protester Hussein Ali, 18. “We won’t relent. It’s the government that is going to back off. Not us.”

Punch

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