Kenyan Protests Continue Despite 23 Deaths in Violent Clashes

Kenyan protesters declared their intention to continue their demonstrations against new taxes on Wednesday, following violent clashes outside parliament and across the country that left at least 23 people dead and numerous injured.

As heavily armed police patrolled the streets of Nairobi on Wednesday, supporters of the week-old protest movement took to X, using the hashtag #tutanethursday, or “see you on Thursday” in a mix of Swahili and English.

An online wave of anger over tax increases has grown into a nationwide protest movement calling for political change, marking the most serious crisis of President William Ruto’s two-year presidency.

Police opened fire on crowds gathered around parliament on Tuesday, who later broke into the assembly’s compound, just minutes after lawmakers had passed the contentious tax measures.

The Nation newspaper reported protests in at least 35 of Kenya’s 47 counties, ranging from major cities to rural areas – even in Ruto’s hometown of Eldoret, located in his ethnic Kalenjin stronghold.

The Kenya Medical Association reported on Wednesday that at least 23 people were killed across Kenya, with another 30 receiving treatment for gunshot wounds.

In the capital, the main public mortuary received the bodies of six people killed in Tuesday’s protests, according to a police officer stationed there. Another two bodies and 160 injured individuals were admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital, according to two health officials.

Many social media users focused on Ruto’s speech after the clashes, where he described the attack on parliament as the work of “criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters”.

“Good morning fellow CRIMINALS Tupatane Thursday To do what CRIMINALS do,” one X user posted.

Social media posts urged people to occupy State House, the president’s office and residence, on Thursday, and the local offices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday, although it was unclear if these calls originated from individuals or a broader movement.

Ruto said in his televised address to the nation late on Tuesday that the debate about the tax measures had been “hijacked by dangerous people”.

The government ordered the deployment of the army to assist police in dealing with a “security emergency”, although there were no reports of troops on the streets of Nairobi on Wednesday.

Protester Wellington Ogolla expressed his intention to return to the streets. “It’s our right to demonstrate … We are just expressing ourselves,” he told Reuters while walking through downtown Nairobi, where the lingering smell of tear gas filled the air.

Lawmakers removed some tax increases from the final version of the finance bill, including those on bread and cooking oil, but added others in an effort to avoid a budget shortfall.

Protesters, who lack formal leadership and primarily organize through social media platforms, are calling for the entire bill to be scrapped, with many now demanding Ruto’s resignation.

Ruto, who won the presidency almost two years ago on a platform of supporting Kenya’s working poor, has found himself caught between the competing demands of lenders such as the IMF – which is urging the government to reduce deficits to secure further financing – and a struggling population.

Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that its staff were injured and traumatized when stones were thrown at one of its ambulances during Tuesday’s unrest. The Kenya Red Cross also stated that its staff and vehicles were attacked, without providing further details.

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