Kenya Protests Live Updates: Police Fire on Protesters Outside Parliament - The World News

Kenya Protests Live Updates: Police Fire on Protesters Outside Parliament

Kenya’s lawmakers passed a contentious finance bill on Tuesday even as thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets around Parliament in the capital, Nairobi, hoping to persuade the government to scrap the tax increases that critics say will make life onerous for millions of people.

The police used tear gas in an attempt to keep the protesters from approaching Parliament, and the sound of live fire rang out. Two wounded people were seen lying on the ground.

The debate over the bill has shaken Kenya, an East African economic powerhouse of 54 million people that has long been an anchor of stability in a deeply tumultuous region. As thousands protested over the tax increases across the country last week, at least one person was killed and 200 others were injured, according to Amnesty International.

Before Tuesday’s demonstration, several activists who are prominent critics of the bill were abducted, according to the Law Society of Kenya. The abductors’ identities were not publicly known, but some were believed to be intelligence officers, said the Law Society’s president, Faith Odhiambo. Ms. Odhiambo later said that some of those abducted had been released.

Rights groups have long accused successive Kenyan governments of kidnapping critics and torturing them. The police did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but Kenya’s chief justice, Martha Koome, condemned the abductions, calling them “a direct assault” on the rule of law.

Last week, as demonstrators packed the streets, lawmakers scrapped some taxes, including on bread, cooking oil and cars. But protesters have denounced other taxes, including on imported goods, and have urged the government to abandon the draft legislation.

“The audacity to raise taxes during these hard economic times, not listen to our concerns and then mistreat us shows how tone deaf the government is and how they don’t care about us,” said Kasmuel McOure, 26, a musician who was participating in Tuesday’s protests.

President William Ruto promised to be a champion of the poor, but critics say his administration has been marred by extravagant spending.Credit…Pool photo by Urs Flueeler

The contentious bill was introduced by the government of President William Ruto in May to raise revenue and limit borrowing in an economy facing a heavy debt burden. But Kenyans have widely criticized the legislation, saying it adds punitive new taxes and raises others on a wide range of goods and services that would escalate living costs.

The president now has two weeks to sign the legislation into law or send it back to Parliament for further amendments.

Detractors of the bill have pointed to corruption and mismanagement of funds, and faulted the opulent lifestyle and extravagant spending that they say have characterized the administration of Mr. Ruto, who has been in office since 2022. Kenyans have also faulted Mr. Ruto for reneging on campaign promises to champion the welfare of the poor and the interests of the striving Kenyans he called “hustlers.”

Opposition members of Kenya’s Parliament had rejected the draft legislation in its totality.

On Tuesday, protesters draped in the Kenyan flag and blowing whistles crowded the streets as lawmakers in Parliament quickly debated and passed the proposed amendments.

Observers say that the protests have been guided by younger people who have used social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to initiate a leaderless movement that has galvanized the nation. Young Kenyans say that their movement transcends the limitations of class, tribe or race, and that it is focused on attaining economic security and social equality for millions for whom that has remained a distant dream.

Besides organizing protests in almost three dozen counties across Kenya, young people have translated the bill into several local languages and used the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT to simplify it. They have employed crowdsourcing to collect the contact information for lawmakers and urged constituents to call them about the bill.

They have also confronted officials at public gatherings and in houses of worship to show their displeasure, and have carried coffins to the offices of some lawmakers who support the legislation.

On Saturday night, they called on nightclubs across Kenya to play the national anthem to rally against the finance bill, and on Sunday they urged church leaders and congregants to voice their rejection of the measure.

“The politicians have for too long underestimated our power, energy and passion,” said Muchiri Mike, a 25-year-old content creator. “We are now asking questions and demanding answers, and they are surprised by this revolution happening at their doorsteps.”

Government officials have blamed unspecified foreign powers for stirring up the protests. And Parliament’s majority leader, Kimani Ichung’wah, dismissed the demonstrators as privileged youngsters who wield iPhones, arrive at demonstrations via Uber and then go to eat at KFC.

Protesters hit back against that description. “It’s not about how we get to the protests, but why we are here in the streets,” said Anita Barasa, 19, whose TikTok videos about the demonstrations have gained a strong following. “They are trying to take attention away from our demands, but we, the cool kids, are seeing that we don’t have a bright future and want change.”

As tensions mounted over the bill in the past few days, some politicians praised the young protesters for taking a keen interest in the country’s future. At a church service on Sunday, President Ruto said he was “proud” of the demonstrating youth and promised to “have a conversation so that together we can build a great nation.”

But as the protests got underway on Tuesday, activists and critics said the early-morning abductions of some activists showed that the government was not ready to engage in a sincere dialogue.

Several protesters, including Mr. McOure, said they had received threats or intimidating phone calls in the days and hours leading up to the protests and were fearing for their lives, although they said they would not be silenced.

“No matter what they do, we will remain unbowed in our demand that we reject the finance bill,” Mr. McOure said.

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