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Kenyan police fire tear gas as anti-tax protests spread

June 20, 2024

Protests against proposed tax hikes spread nationwide on Thursday as riot police cracked down on some demonstrations. The government has argued that it needs to address a major budget deficit.

Anti-tax protesters in Nakuru, Kenya
Protesters hit the streets in Nakuru and other cities after days of demonstrations in the capitalImage: James Wakibia/SOPA Images/IMAGO

Thousands of people in Kenya took to the streets on Thursday for a third day protests against a government plan to raise taxes.

In Nairobi's business district, riot police fired water cannons and tear gas at protesters who appeared to be demonstrating peacefully, according to local media reports.

It comes after police arrested hundreds of protesters in the capital on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the protests spread to Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and other cities.

Demonstrators chanted phrases like "We say no to economic dictatorship" and "Ruto must go."

Kenyan lawmaskers advance tax bill amid protests

Why are Kenyans protesting?

The Kenyan government is looking to raise $2.7 billion (€2.5 billion) in new taxes in order to plug a budget deficit.

The International Monetary Fund has also urged the government to increase revenues in its next budget and to reduce borrowing.

Riot police in Nairobi, Kenya
Riot police were deployed to disperse protesters in Nairobi over three daysImage: Monicah Mwangi/REUTERS

The government initially planned to raise taxes on bread, cooking oil, hygiene products, new cars and other goods.

Some of these taxes, including those on bread and foreign exchange transactions, were scrapped on Tuesday after the first protests.

But protesters still fear the tax hikes will increase the cost of living and hurt the economy.

"This bill cannot pass. This bill is going to finish us. We don't have jobs... we can't even open businesses, we can't do anything in this country," one 26-year-old protester in Nairobi told the AFP news agency.

Kenyan President William Ruto, who was elected almost two years ago on a promise to support the working poor, has defended the proposed tax hikes.

He said the government needs to cut back on borrowing and become more financially sustainable.

"The whole principal is that you must live within your means," he said last month.

A protester holding a sign in Nakuru, Kenya
Kenya's president has defended the proposed taxesImage: James Wakibia/SOPA Images/IMAGO

Rights groups slam police response

Police arrested at least 335 people, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty Kenya.

Amnesty Kenya said that its staff members observing the protests were among those arrested on Wednesday.

"We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all arrested protesters and observers," the rights group said.

Police detaining protesters in Nakuru, Kenya
Hundreds of protesters have been detainedImage: Andrew Kasuku/AP Photo/picture alliance

Kenya Law Society President Faith Odhiambo also said that police used tear gas on lawyers who were trying to reach their detained clients at a Nairobi police station.

Young Kenyans protest tax hike plans: DW's Felix Maringa

zc/lo (Reuters, AFP)