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Kenyan President Ruto pledges tough action after deadly protests

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People cross a street with strewn debris in the aftermath of clashes between protesters and riot police near Parliament buildings during a nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, on June 25, 2024. — AFP
People cross a street with strewn debris in the aftermath of clashes between protesters and riot police near Parliament buildings during a nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, on June 25, 2024. — AFP  

NAIROBI: President William Ruto condemned the turmoil in the capital and vowed to take a robust and swift response to what he termed “treasonous events.”

Nairobi witnessed a wave of violence on Tuesday, as protests against proposed tax hikes escalated into deadly chaos, with demonstrators storming the parliament grounds. Five people were killed, and 31 others injured, as reported by Amnesty Kenya and other NGOs.

Addressing the press in Nairobi, he declared, “We shall provide a full, effective, and expeditious response to today’s treasonous events.” He criticised the protests as being “hijacked by dangerous people,” and stated it was unthinkable for “criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters” to wreak havoc and go unpunished.

Ruto issued a stern warning to those he identified as the masterminds behind the violence. He said, “I hereby put on notice the planners, financiers, orchestrators, abetters of violence and anarchy.”

The chaotic scene unfolded as protesters, angered by proposed tax increases amid a cost-of-living crisis, clashed with police, breached barricades, and ransacked parliament. Elizabeth Nyaberi, a 26-year-old lawyer, reflected the sentiments of many demonstrators, saying, “This is the voice of the young people of Kenya. They are tear gassing us, but we don’t care.”

The unrest has drawn international concern. The United States called for calm, while thirteen Western nations, including Canada, Germany, and Britain, expressed their shock over the events. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, through his spokesman, conveyed his deep concern and sorrow over the violence and casualties. Similarly, African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat urged restraint to prevent further violence.

Amnesty International’s Kenya chapter criticised the police response, noting a rapid decline in the policing of protests and highlighting allegations of protester abductions by officers in civilian clothes. The Kenya Human Rights Commission called for the unconditional release of those detained.

Despite recent government concessions to roll back some tax hikes, it plans to increase other levies, including on fuel and exports, to address budget shortfalls. Critics argue these measures will exacerbate living costs in a nation already grappling with high inflation and widespread poverty.

Kenya, one of East Africa’s most dynamic economies, faces significant economic challenges, with a third of its population living in poverty and rising debt servicing costs due to a depreciating currency.

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