Home International Tear gas and stones as protesters across Kenya say ‘Ruto must go!’

Tear gas and stones as protesters across Kenya say ‘Ruto must go!’

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Kenyan riot police fired tear gas at protesters in Nairobi on Tuesday and demonstrations erupted in other cities across the country demanding the resignation of President William Ruto, following a week of deadly clashes in anti-tax protests.

People take part in a demonstration over police killings of people protesting against the imposition of tax hikes by the government, as police use teargas to disperse them, in Nairobi, Kenya, July 2, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Monicah Mwangi

By Jefferson Kahinju and Dicksy O’Biero

NAIROBI/MOMBASA – Kenyan riot police fired tear gas at protesters in Nairobi on Tuesday and demonstrations erupted in other cities across the country demanding the resignation of President William Ruto, following a week of deadly clashes in anti-tax protests.

Clouds of tear gas wafted over downtown Nairobi after protesters set fires on Waiyaki Way, the main road running through the centre of the capital, and threw stones at police in the central business district.

Outside the capital, hundreds of protesters marched in an ebullient mood through Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city, on the Indian Ocean coast. They carried palm fronds, blew on plastic horns and beat on drums, chanting “Ruto must go!”

Ruto, facing the most serious crisis of his nearly two-year-old presidency, has been caught between the demands of lenders such as the International Monetary Fund to cut deficits, and a hard-pressed population reeling from the soaring cost of living.

Members of the protest movement, which has no official leaders and largely organises via social media, have rejected Ruto’s appeals for dialogue, even after he abandoned the proposed tax rises that triggered the demonstrations.

“People are dying on the streets and the only thing he can talk about is money. We are not money. We are people. We are human beings,” protester Milan Waudo told Reuters in Mombasa. “He needs to care about his people, because if he can’t care about his people then we don’t need him in that chair.”

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Other protests took place in Kisumu, Nakuru, Kajiado, Migori, Mlolongo and Rongo, according to images broadcast on Kenyan television. In the southwestern town of Migori, protesters had set tyres on fire.

Dozens of Kenyans have been killed in demonstrations and clashes with police since June 18, most of them shot by officers last Tuesday, when some protesters tried to storm parliament to stop lawmakers voting on the tax increases.

Infuriated by the deaths – at least 39 according to the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) – many are demanding that Ruto step down.

‘BEAUTIFUL DAY’

“We are determined to push for the president’s resignation,” said Ojango Omondi, an activist in Nairobi. “We hope for a peaceful protest and minimal casualties, if any.”

The authorities appealed for calm.

“It’s a beautiful day to choose patriotism. A beautiful day to choose peace, order and the sanctity of our nationhood,” State House communications director Gerald Bitok wrote on X on Tuesday, adding in Swahili: “Violence is not patriotism.”

The protests, which started as an online outpouring of anger over nearly $2.7 billion of tax hikes in a proposed finance bill, have grown into a nationwide movement against corruption and misgovernance.

Ruto has directed the treasury to come up with ways to cut spending to fill a budget gap caused by the withdrawal of the tax plans, and also said more borrowing will be required.

Veteran anti-corruption activist John Githongo told Reuters that while Ruto had addressed the nation and media, “there isn’t an indication that he wants to take action” on protesters’ demands, including firing corrupt officials.

“There hasn’t been any indication by the government that they are going to take the calls to deal with corruption seriously,” he said.

The protests had been mostly peaceful until last Tuesday, when some demonstrators briefly stormed parliament and set part of it ablaze, prompting police to open fire.

Ruto has defended the actions of the police, and blamed the violence on “criminals” who hijacked the demonstrations.

– REUTERS

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