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Violent protests erupt in Kenya over controversial tax bill

One person has been killed and hundreds injured, rights groups have reported

Police in Kenya have clashed with protesters rallying against a controversial finance bill that the East African country’s government is pushing through parliament. One person has been shot dead and at least 105 others have been arrested across the country, a coalition of rights groups said on Thursday.

At least 200 people have been injured in the capital, Nairobi, Amnesty International, the Law Society of Kenya, the Kenya Medical Association, the Defenders Coalition, and the Independent Medical Legal Unit said in a joint statement.

“There have been five casualties from rubber bullet injuries, police tear gas canisters and batons. Six people were hit by cars while running away from police officers. There is confirmation of live shootings verified by the presence of spent cartridges,” the group stated.

On Thursday, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of demonstrators across the country, including those who were marching on a street near Kenyan President William Ruto’s residence in Nairobi, according to multiple reports.

The Kenyan Red Cross said in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) that its emergency team had treated 39 injured people in Nairobi, eight of whom were in critical condition and were evacuated to Kenyatta National Hospital for treatment.

Local daily The Star also reported that at least one person was shot and killed during the anti-tax protest along Moi Avenue in the capital late on Thursday. Rex Kanyike Masai, 29, reportedly died during treatment for a wound on his thigh at a hospital.

Kenyan Police Inspector General Japhet Koome issued a statement on Thursday warning that protests would not be permitted in critical government infrastructure, including the National Assembly, where lawmakers were debating the finance bill.

He declared that while citizens have the right to “assemble, demonstrate, and picket,” law enforcement officials will “neither condone nor approve efforts” by demonstrators to disrupt “ongoing parliamentary proceedings.” 

Protests broke out in Kenya on Tuesday in response to the government’s 2024 Finance Bill, which passed the second stage of reading.

A parliamentary committee recommended on Tuesday that the government withdraw some new taxes proposed in the bill, including an annual 2.5% tax on car ownership and a 16% tax on bread, following a public outcry.

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The government has justified the tax measures as necessary to reduce the country’s budget deficit, but protesters argue that they will be harmful to the economy and escalate the already high cost of living.

The finance bill is in response to the International Monetary Fund’s recommendation that Nairobi make a “sizable and upfront” fiscal adjustment in its 2024/25 budget to reduce state borrowing.

President Ruto, who won the 2022 elections, has faced repeated protests for allegedly failing to fulfill campaign promises and address the country’s high cost of living.

Several people were killed and dozens arrested last July when rallies led by Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition Azimio Coalition, against a slew of tax hikes turned violent in the East African country.

June 21, 2024 at 03:48PM

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