Kenya torn between anger and mourning after protest deaths

Nairobi. After ready for hours exterior a morgue within the capital Nairobi, gripped by protests in opposition to the Kenyan authorities’s controversial tax rises, Florence Onyango obtained the information she had been dreading.

“A good friend of mine died as a result of he was demonstrating yesterday near the parliament. He was shot within the head,” the 47-year-old advised AFP, tears welling up in her eyes.

“His title was Eric and he was solely 22. Younger individuals cannot be killed for no cause.”

Her good friend was simply one among a rating of demonstrators killed in a day of primarily youth-led protests in opposition to deeply unpopular tax hikes throughout the East African nation Tuesday.

Tensions ran particularly excessive in Nairobi, the place in accordance with an NGO police opened fireplace on demonstrators who stormed parliament, the place lawmakers had been voting on the invoice containing the tax rises.

Components of the parliament had been set ablaze, prompting President William Ruto’s authorities to deploy the military.

The size of the violence prompted Ruto to say Wednesday afternoon he wouldn’t signal into regulation however would as a substitute withdraw the contentious tax hikes — even when the transfer meant a major shortfall in funding for improvement programmes designed to assist farmers and schoolteachers.

Rights teams say the police fired dwell rounds on the demonstrators, and have additionally accused the authorities of abducting protesters.

The Kenya Nationwide Human Rights Fee (KNHRC) counted 22 deaths within the nation, together with 19 in Nairobi.

The unrest additionally led to “greater than 300 injured and greater than 50 arrests”, the fee’s chairwoman Roseline Odede mentioned.

On Wednesday, Nairobi’s central enterprise district nonetheless bore the scars of yesterday’s violence.

The husk of a burnt-out automobile lay in a gutter, and the scent of tear gasoline hung within the air round parliament.

Close by, dried blood stained the bottom crimson.

‘Extra violence and chaos’

Earlier than returning to work, Steve hurried alongside Parliament Street to revisit the scene of the protest he had taken half in.

“The federal government doesn’t care about us as a result of they shot us with dwell bullets,” the 40-year-old farmer mentioned, blaming Ruto for having “victimised harmless individuals”.

Regardless of the deaths, Steve was undeterred: “I’ll display once more tomorrow, and I anticipate extra violence and chaos.”

Within the face of the unrest, parliament handed the invoice with the tax hikes on Tuesday afternoon, and it wanted solely Ruto’s signature to change into regulation earlier than he dramatically reversed course Wednesday.

Protesters had earlier vowed to take to the streets once more Thursday, calling for the invoice to be scrapped completely.

One of many main figures within the anti-government protest motion, journalist and activist Hanifa Adan, referred to as for Thursday’s protest to be a “peaceable” march in reminiscence of the victims.

However standing in entrance of the parliament’s smashed gates, the place a heavy police presence stood guard, Penina Njeri didn’t consider that might be potential.

After Tuesday’s deaths, “it should really feel extra violent, as a result of persons are very offended, persons are bitter,” Njeri advised AFP.

The depth of opposition to the tax rises has stunned Ruto’s cash-strapped authorities.

The motion, dubbed “Occupy Parliament”, took off on social media shortly after the draft 2024-25 price range was offered to parliament on June 13.

Its hikes, together with a 16 p.c value-added tax on bread and a 2.5 p.c annual tax on non-public autos, angered Kenyans already scuffling with a cost-of-living disaster.

The rallies — largely led by younger Gen-Z Kenyans — had been largely peaceable earlier than Thursday.

However even earlier than then, the protests had already been marred by the deaths of two individuals in Nairobi, dozens injured and lots of arrested.

Within the corridors of the Kenyatta Nationwide Hospital (KNH), Kenya’s largest, the stress was etched into the docs’ faces.

Greater than 160 individuals have been handled there for accidents, a lot of them gunshot wounds.

“As a hospital, we’re ready” for additional protests, surgeon Benjamin Wabwire advised AFP.

“However we hope we will not have one other yesterday tomorrow.”

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