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Kenyan Protesters Against Tax Hikes Breach Parliament Barricade, Police Fire Rubber Bullets

Kenyan protesters against the government’s tax hike have breached parliament barricades, with many of them injured by police firing rubber bullets.

Protesters gesture towards police officers during a mass rally called by the opposition leader Raila Odinga who claims the last Kenyan presidential election was stolen from him and blames the government for the hike of living costs in Kibera, Nairobi on March 20, 2023. – Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga called on his supporters to participate in countrywide protests on March 20, 2023 to demand that President William Ruto lowers the cost of living while questioning last years presidential elections results. Kenyans face economic hardship following the governments recent tax measures and increased food and fuel prices. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP) (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kenyan police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse young protesters in Nairobi on Tuesday, escalating tensions as demonstrators rallied across the country against proposed tax hikes.

The protests, which have been mostly peaceful, intensified when demonstrators breached parliament barricades, prompting police to fire live bullets.

Hundreds of protesters broke through barriers outside parliament, with many wounded by live rounds, according to Amnesty International Kenya.

Stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police, who used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons to disperse thousands of mostly young protesters.

The protests, led primarily by ‘Gen Z’, caught the Kenyan government off guard. President William Ruto expressed willingness to talk to the protesters, acknowledging the peaceful nature of the rallies in his first public comments over the weekend.

Despite heavy police presence, thousands of protesters marched through Nairobi’s business district towards parliament, pushing back against barricades. Police in full riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd as protesters livestreamed the action, chanting and beating drums.

Protests also occurred in other cities, including Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret. Anger over a cost-of-living crisis has fuelled the nationwide rallies, with demonstrators demanding the finance bill be scrapped.

The protests have now drawn support from multiple generations, including 41-year-old Moody Kimwele, who protested alongside his 15-year-old son in Nairobi, expressing discontent with the government’s handling of the economy.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority and rights groups reported that two people died following last week Thursday’s rallies in Nairobi. Amnesty International Kenya and other organisations said at least 200 people were wounded in last week’s protests. Amnesty’s Kenya chapter warned of the deteriorating pattern of policing protests, urging the government to respect demonstrators’ right to assembly.

Rights groups have accused authorities of abducting protesters, mostly at night, in violation of the law. The Kenya Human Rights Commission called for the unconditional release of all abductees.

Protesters have used unconventional tactics, such as asking bars to stop playing music at midnight on weekends, with partygoers chanting “Ruto must go” and “Reject finance bill.” Some Anglican and Catholic church leaders have also supported the protests.

The government, facing a huge debt mountain and ballooning servicing costs due to a fall in the value of the local currency, agreed to roll back several tax increases. However, it still plans to raise other taxes to fill state coffers and reduce reliance on external borrowing.

The treasury warned of a 200 billion shilling ($1.56 billion) budget shortfall after scrapping levies on bread, car ownership, and financial and mobile services. The government now intends to increase fuel prices and export taxes, a move critics say will further burden Kenyans already struggling with high inflation.

Kenya, one of East Africa’s most dynamic economies, still sees a third of its 52 million people living in poverty.

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