Kenya Protest Death Toll Rises to 13


The death toll from protests in Kenya has climbed to 13, an official from the main doctors’ association told AFP Wednesday, after anti-tax hike rallies turned violent and police opened fire at demonstrators who ransacked parliament.

The unprecedented scenes that left parts of parliament ablaze and gutted and injured scores of people on Tuesday have shocked Kenyans and prompted President William Ruto’s government to deploy the military.

The mainly youth-led rallies began mostly peacefully last week, with thousands of demonstrators marching in the capital Nairobi and across the country against the tax increases.

But tensions flared sharply on Tuesday afternoon, as police officers fired live rounds on crowds that later ransacked the parliament complex.

An injured protester is evacuated after being shot at with rubber bullets by riot police near Parliament buildings during a nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, on June 25, 2024. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

Hours later, Defence Minister Aden Bare Duale announced that the government had deployed the army to support the police in tackling “the security emergency” in the country.

“So far, we have at least 13 people killed, but this is not the final number,” Simon Kigondu, president of the Kenya Medical Association said, adding that he had never seen “such level of violence against unarmed people.”

“Deaths, mayhem”, read the front-page headline on the Standard newspaper, while the Daily Nation described the situation as “Pandemonium”, saying: “The foundations of the country have been shaken to the core.”

An official at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi said Wednesday that medics were treating “160 people… some of them with soft tissue injuries, some of them with bullet wounds”.

In a late-night press briefing, Ruto warned that his government would take a tough line against “violence and anarchy”, likening some of the demonstrators to “criminals”.

“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,” he said.

The government has been taken by surprise by the intensity of opposition to its tax proposals –- mostly led by young, Gen-Z Kenyans — which culminated in the scenes at parliament that played out live on television.

Images shared on local TV stations after crowds broke through the barricades showed the building ransacked, with burnt furniture and smashed windows.

As police fired at the angry crowds, leaving several bodies strewn on the ground, protest organisers urged people to walk home together and “stay safe”.

Meanwhile, the unrest has alarmed the international community, with the White House appealing for calm and more than 10 Western nations — including Canada, Germany and Britain — saying they were “especially shocked by the scenes witnessed outside the Kenyan Parliament”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres and the head of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, have also expressed deep concern.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who heads the Azimio coalition, accused the government of unleashing “brute force on our country’s children”.

Rights watchdogs have also accused the authorities of abducting protesters.

The police have not responded to any AFP requests for comment.

Long-running grievances over the rising cost of living spiralled last week as lawmakers began debating proposed tax hikes in the 2024 finance bill.

The cash-strapped government says the increases are needed to service the country’s massive debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), equal to roughly 70 percent of Kenya’s GDP.

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