One killed in Kenya rallies as protesters breach parliamentTue, 25 Jun 2024 13:05:18 GMT

Kenyan police shot dead one protester near parliament Tuesday, a rights group said, with AFP journalists seeing three people lying motionless on the ground as crowds opposed to proposed tax hikes breached barricades to enter the parliamentary complex where a fire erupted.The mainly Gen-Z-led rallies, which began last week, have caught the government off guard, with President William Ruto saying over the weekend he was ready to talk to the protesters.But tensions sharply escalated on Tuesday afternoon, as crowds began to throw stones at police and push back against barricades, making their way towards the parliament complex, which was sealed off by police in full riot gear.Police fired at crowds massing outside the parliament building, where lawmakers had been debating a contentious bill featuring tax hike proposals.”Police have shot four protesters, as witnessed by KHRC, killing one,” the Kenya Human Rights Commission said in a statement on X.Shortly before, Irungu Houghton, the executive director of Amnesty International Kenya, told AFP that “human rights observers are now reporting the increasing use of live bullets by the National Police Service in the capital of Nairobi”.”Safe passage for medical officers to treat the many wounded is now urgent,” he said.Anger over a cost-of-living crisis spiralled into nationwide rallies last week, with demonstrators calling for the finance bill to be scrapped.Despite a heavy police presence, thousands of protesters had earlier marched through Nairobi’s business district, pushing back against barricades as they headed towards parliament.Police in full riot gear were firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, according to AFP journalists.As protesters gained ground in their push towards parliament, many were livestreaming the action earlier in the day as they sang, chanted and beat drums.Crowds also marched in the port city of Mombasa, the opposition bastion of Kisumu, and Ruto’s stronghold of Eldoret, images on Kenyan TV channels showed.- ‘At a crossroads’ -The Independent Policing Oversight Authority watchdog and rights groups said that two people had died following Thursday’s rallies in Nairobi.Several organisations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were wounded in last week’s protests in Nairobi.Amnesty’s Kenya chapter posted on X Tuesday that “the pattern of policing protests is deteriorating fast”, urging the government to respect demonstrators’ right to assembly.On Monday, ahead of the rallies, the rights body said Kenya was “at a crossroads”.”Despite mass arrests and injuries, the protests have continued to grow, emphasising the public’s widespread discontent,” it said, warning that “the escalation of force could lead to more fatalities and legal repercussions.”Rights watchdogs have accused the authorities of abducting protesters in violation of the law.The Kenya Human Rights Commission said the abductions had mostly occurred at night and were “conducted by police officers in civilian clothes and unmarked cars”, calling for the “unconditional release of all abductees.”Police have not responded to AFP requests for comment on the allegations.The protesters have also deployed unconventional tactics, including asking bars to stop playing music at midnight on the weekend as partygoers burst into chants of “Ruto must go” and “Reject finance bill.”Their demonstrations have drawn support from some Anglican and Catholic church leaders.- Debt mountain -The cash-strapped government agreed last week to roll back several tax increases.But it still intends to raise other taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.Kenya has a huge debt mountain whose servicing costs have ballooned because of a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, making interest payments on foreign-currency loans more expensive.The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with well-paid jobs remaining out of reach for many young people.After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.56 billion).The government now intends to target an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 52 million people live in poverty.