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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 July 2024

Kenya's parliament compound stormed, building set ablaze as thousands of protesters enter

One person shot dead was wrapped in a Kenyan flag and carried away, and internet service in the country noticeably slowed

AP Published 25.06.24, 08:33 PM
Protesters hide behind a banner as police fire teargas at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya.

Protesters hide behind a banner as police fire teargas at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. PTI picture.

Sections of Kenya's parliament were on fire on Tuesday as protesters overwhelmed police to storm the compound where lawmakers had just passed a contentious bill that would introduce a raft of new taxes, a Reuters witness said.

Protesters had demanded that legislators vote against the bill imposing new taxes on a country, East Africa’s economic hub, where frustrations over the high cost of living have simmered for years.

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But lawmakers voted to pass the bill, then fled through a tunnel as protesters, many of them youth, outmaneuvered police to enter parliament. Protesters allowed opposition legislators who voted against the bill to walk out of the besieged building. The fire was later put out.

One person shot dead was wrapped in a Kenyan flag and carried away. Chaos began to spread to other communities in the country.

Kenya’s government had no immediate comment, and internet service in the country noticeably slowed. President William Ruto was outside Nairobi attending an African Union retreat. He had been expected to sign the finance bill into law this week and has two weeks to act.

The office of the Nairobi governor, a member of the ruling party, was also briefly on fire Tuesday, with smoke pouring from its white facade. The office is located near parliament. Police water cannons were used to extinguish the fire.

Protesters could be heard shouting, “We’re coming for every politician.”

Police also fired live ammunition and threw tear gas canisters at protesters who sought treatment at a medical tent set up at a church near the parliament complex. Elsewhere, Kenyatta National Hospital said it had received 45 “victims,” though it was not immediately clear if any were dead.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission shared a video of officers shooting at protesters and said they would be held to account, and it urged Ruto to issue an immediate order to “stop the killings.”

Hundreds of Kenya’s police officers, long accused of abuses by human rights watchdogs and others, arrived Tuesday in Haiti to lead a United Nations-backed multinational force against the powerful gangs who have the country in its grip. The deployment faces a legal challenge in Kenya but Ruto’s government has gone ahead, with the thanks of U.S. President Joe Biden.

On Sunday, Ruto tried to calm the rising public tensions over the finance bill, saying he was proud of the young Kenyans who had come out to exercise their democratic duty. He said he would engage the youth on their concerns.

But youth last week announced they were uniting to keep the government in check as prices for fuel, basic foods and other necessities have soared. In Nairobi, a regional hub for expatriates and home to a major United Nations complex, the inequality among Kenyans has sharpened along with long-held frustrations over state corruption.

As throngs of protesters rushed through the streets on Tuesday, defiance emerged elsewhere in the country. Protesters tried to storm the State House in the western city of Nakuru, a witness said. They also burned ruling party offices in Embu in central Kenya, the Nation newspaper reported. Citizen TV showed footage from Nyeri in central Kenya with police confronting protesters in the smoking streets.

Another media outlet, broadcaster KTN, issued a statement saying that “we have received threats from the authorities to shut us down” as coverage continued.

Two people died in similar protests last week, and civil society groups have raised the alarm about a crackdown.

The Kenya Law Society President Faith Odhiambo said earlier Tuesday that 50 Kenyans, including her personal assistant, had been “abducted” by people believed to be police officers.

Some of those missing included those who were vocal in the demonstrations and were taken from their homes, workplaces and public spaces ahead of Tuesday’s protests, according to civil society groups.

Police officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Parliament Speaker Moses Wetangula had directed the inspector general of police to provide information on the whereabouts of those reportedly abducted.

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