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Police fire tear gas at renewed Kenya protests

By?Basillioh Rukanga,?BBC News, Nairobi
AFP Kenyan security forces are seen ahead of a planned demonstration called after a nationwide deadly protest against a controversial now-withdrawn tax bill left over 20 dead in downtown Nairobi, on June 27, 2024. AFP
Heavy contingents of security forces have been deployed to the capital

Kenyan police have fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital, Nairobi, who have turned up to express their anger against the government and mourn people killed in earlier protests.

Security forces, including the military, have been heavily deployed, and roads are blocked around key buildings in the city.

This comes two days after more than 20 people reportedly lost their lives in protests against tax hikes, which saw part of parliament set alight.

The next day, President William Ruto bowed to pressure and said he would withdraw the finance bill containing the unpopular tax proposals.

State agents have been accused of abducting hundreds of people linked to the protests.

The state-funded Kenya National Commission said it had helped secure the release of more than 300 "illegally detained" people.

Demonstrators had vowed to gather again in Nairobi's city centre to mourn those killed. Some have been demanding the president's resignation.

But the turnout in the capital on Thursday has been much lower than in the previous protest when people stormed parliament.

Groups of protesters have been trying to enter the city centre but most have been repelled by the police.

Ahead of the protests some had vowed to march to the president’s official residence, State House.

But prominent people linked to the protests warned against this because of the risk of further violence.

Roads leading to State House have been blocked, with officers turning away some motorists and pedestrians.

Earlier on Thursday, local television stations showed empty streets in the central business district, with many security forces on patrol.

There have also been protests in towns around the country.

In Mombasa, Kenya's second-biggest city, large crowds turned out chanting "Ruto must go", with businesses having to close because of some looting and stone throwing.

President Ruto's hometown of Eldoret, which on Tuesday experienced violent clashes, is calm.

But there were some clashes in Migori in western Kenya, where police lobbed tear gas as they engaged with demonstrators.

Crowds of demonstrators confronted security officers in Kisumu, also in the west.

Ahead of Thursday's protests, Auma Obama, the half-sister of former US President Barack Obama, told the BBC that young people were going to the streets again because "they still want their voices heard".

Ms Obama, who was tear-gassed as she joined Tuesday's protests, told the BBC Newsday programme that the youth were still aggrieved.

Mr Ruto had promised to enter into dialogue with them, but this has not yet happened, she said.

"The grievances are not over. It is way beyond the finance bill now, so a conversation has to happen. There has to be a dialogue. I hope that will happen. We do not want more bloodshed," Ms Obama added.

Mr Ruto won the presidency in 2022 after campaigning to champion the interests of the "hustler" - the ordinary citizen struggling to earn a living.

But since then he has introduced a slew of taxes and raised others, making him unpopular as people complained that they could not afford to pay more when they were already struggling because of the cost-of-living crisis.

The finance bill outlined plans to introduce new taxes this year, including on bread and cooking oil, triggering the mass protests.

The government bowed to pressure and dropped some of the taxes but it did little to assuage the concerns of people, who demanded that the bill be withdrawn entirely.

On Wednesday, the president gave in to their demand, saying that "the people have spoken".

But he defended the bill, saying his government had made the tough choices necessary to stabilise the economy and to help ease Kenya out of a debt trap which forces it to spend 61 cents of every tax dollar on repaying its loans.

Mr Ruto now intends to balance the books by introducing a new programme of public austerity, including a cut to spending in his office.

Additional reporting by Gladys Kigo in Nairobi, Rhoda Odhiambo and David Wafula in Eldoret and Najib Juma Balo in Mombasa.

AFP Members of the Kenyan police are seen stationed outside State house in Nairobi on June 27, 2024.AFP
Roads leading to key buildings have been blocked
AFP Protesters run to take cover outside the Kenyan Parliament after storming the building during a nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, on June 25, 2024AFP
At least 22 people were reportedly killed in Tuesday's protests

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