Kenya opposition calls for third anti-tax protest on July 19

NAIROBI (Reuters) -Kenya’s opposition on Thursday called for a third day of demonstrations against tax hikes on July 19, after previous protests saw several of Kenya’s towns and cities witness violent and sometimes deadly stand-offs with police.

Police shot at least two protesters dead in the capital Nairobi on Wednesday, officers said, as they sought to repel a crowd advancing down the main expressway. At least nine people were killed in the nationwide protests, according to the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

President William Ruto was elected last August on a platform of helping Kenya’s working poor, but his critics say the tax rises he signed last month will deepen the plight of Kenyans already struggling to afford basic commodities like maize flour.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has finished runner-up in five straight presidential elections, said two lawmakers had been among those arrested for their role in Wednesday’s protest, which saw tens of people hospitalised.

“We are not giving up in our quest to force Mr. William Ruto to lower the cost of living, respect the views of Kenyans, reconstitute the (election commission) in a bipartisan manner and respect political parties,” Odinga told journalists.

The government says the tax hikes, expected to raise an extra 200 billion shillings ($1.42 billion) a year, are needed to help deal with growing debt repayments and to fund job-creation initiatives in East Africa’s largest economy.

Kenya’s High Court suspended the tax hikes, but the government has raised petrol prices anyway, leading to a further court challenge.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Mark Porter)