Kenya police and protesters clash at rallies in capitalTue, 02 Jul 2024 13:24:53 GMT

Protesters clashed with police in Kenya’s capital Nairobi Tuesday and some were arrested, AFP reporters saw, as calls for peaceful anti-government rallies descended into scattered incidents of violence and looting following last month’s deadly demonstrations.Activists have stepped up their campaign against President William Ruto despite his decision last week to withdraw a controversial finance bill that triggered what he has branded “treasonous” protests by young Gen-Z Kenyans.The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) said on Monday that 39 people had been killed and 361 injured during two weeks of demonstrations — with the worst violence occurring last Tuesday — and condemned the use of force against protesters as “excessive and disproportionate”.By Tuesday afternoon, Nairobi’s central business district — the focus of previous rallies — saw scattered confrontations between police lobbing tear gas and small groups of stone-throwing men on deserted roads.”Goons have infiltrated,” prominent Gen-Z protester Hanifa Adan posted on X, with a string of broken heart emojis.Several coffins, some covered with the national flag, were also placed on roads by protesters, Kenyan television showed, before they were removed by officers.Earlier, local politician John Kwenya told AFP that business owners shuttering their shops were “scared” of “goons”.”This is economic sabotage,” Kwenya, a member of the Nairobi city county assembly, said.Elsewhere in the country, local TV broadcast images of larger crowds marching in the coastal opposition stronghold Mombasa, as well as gatherings in Kisumu and Nakuru.At a peaceful march in Kisumu, demonstrator Allan Odhiambo, 26, told AFP he had lost hope in Ruto.”We promised a peaceful protest and that is what we have done, but Ruto must go,” he said, citing a slogan that has become a popular hashtag.”Let him just pack (up) and go.”- ‘#RutoMustGo’ -Largely peaceful rallies against a raft of tax increases — mostly led by young Kenyans on social media — descended into deadly chaos on Tuesday last week when lawmakers passed the deeply unpopular legislation.After the announcement of the vote, crowds ransacked the partly ablaze parliament complex in central Nairobi as police fired live bullets at protesters.Ruto said in a television interview on Sunday that 19 people had died, but defended his decision to call in the armed forces to tackle the unrest and insisted he did not have “blood on my hands”. In Nakuru, protesters marched peacefully on Tuesday, with some carrying pictures of three killed during last week’s demonstrations.”We want justice for innocent Kenyans killed by police during the protests that were peaceful,” Mary Lynn Wangui told AFP.”Ruto has not offered an apology,” said the 24-year-old, as she waved a placard declaring: “RutoMustGo”.It is the most serious crisis to confront the president since he took office in September 2022 following a deeply divisive election in a nation often considered a beacon of stability in a turbulent region. Ruto’s appeal for dialogue and his decision to scrap the tax legislation has appeared not to have appeased his critics.One leaflet widely shared online declared both Tuesday and Thursday public holidays for an “OccupyEverywhere” movement and urged all Kenyans to stage sit-down protests on major roads in the country on those days.- ‘Unwarranted violence’ -The state-funded KNCHR said Monday that in the previous protests there had also been 32 cases of “enforced or involuntary disappearances” and 627 arrests of protesters. “The Commission continues to condemn in the strongest terms possible the unwarranted violence and force that was inflicted on protesters, medical personnel, lawyers, journalists and on safe spaces such as churches, medical emergency centres and ambulances,” the KNCHR said.Kenya’s cash-strapped government said previously that the tax increases were necessary to fill its coffers and service a public debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), or about 70 percent of GDP.In Sunday’s interview, Ruto warned that the government would have to borrow another $7.7 billion because of the decision to drop the finance bill.