Kenya police fire tear gas as protesters defy ban
Kenyan officers fired tear gas on protesters Wednesday as they defied a police ban to join demonstrations called by opposition leader Raila Odinga against a raft of tax hikes.
Shops were shut and security was tight in the capital Nairobi, where police deployed tear gas against stone-throwing demonstrators in the slum of Mathare. Tear gas was also used to disperse crowds in the port city of Mombasa.
Last week’s rallies in several cities turned violent, with six people killed according to the interior ministry, as rights campaigners accused police of taking a heavy-handed approach towards the demonstrations.
On the eve of Wednesday’s protests, the country’s police chief warned opposition supporters from holding “illegal demonstrations”, saying that organisers had not provided the authorities with any “notifications” about their planned rallies this week.
“In this regard, no such demonstrations/gatherings/protests will be allowed tomorrow… All lawful means will be used to disperse such demonstrations,” Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome said in a statement.
Police had fired tear gas in Nairobi on Friday, targeting Odinga’s convoy, and took similar steps against demonstrations in the cities of Mombasa and Kisumu.
On Saturday campaigners said police used tear gas on civil society representatives, who were demanding the release of dozens of people arrested during the protests.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has called for “a thorough investigation into all reported incidents of police brutality”, adding to the chorus of condemnation from rights groups including Amnesty International against “arbitrary arrests”.
Odinga’s Azimio alliance has vowed to stage protests every week against the policies of President William Ruto’s government.
“Our activities are protected by the Constitution which guarantees right to protest, picket, assemble and present petitions,” Odinga’s spokesman Dennis Onyango told AFP.
Odinga, who lost the August 2022 election to Ruto, claims that the poll was “stolen” and has held a string of anti-government rallies this year.
But as soaring food prices pile pressure on households, many Kenyans said they could not afford the disruption caused by the protests and had little hope of seeing improvements to their economic situation.
“I used to look forward to the protests, I felt it was the only way our voices were being heard but nothing is changing,” housekeeper Ruth Nyakundi told AFP on the eve of the demonstrations.
“Life is just getting worse,” the 41-year-old said.
Ruto last month signed into law a finance bill expected to generate more than $2.1 billion for the government’s depleted coffers.
The Finance Act provides for new taxes or increases on basic goods such as fuel and food and mobile money transfers, as well as a controversial levy on all tax-payers to fund a housing scheme.
The government says the taxes will help create jobs and reduce public borrowing.
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