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Police fire tear gas, water cannon at anti-tax protesters in Nairobi

RIOT police in Nairobi fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of demonstrators as coordinated marches took place across Kenya against government plans to raise $2.7 billion in additional taxes.

Late into the protest on Thursday, officers fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were marching on a road near State House, President William Ruto’s office and official residence.

Earlier, police had sprayed people with purple-coloured water from water cannon, as they sought to clear protesters in Nairobi’s central business district and blocked their path to parliament. The demonstration had appeared peaceful.

The Kenya Red Cross said on X it had attended to 39 injured people from the protests, of whom eight were in critical condition.

Police spokesperson Resila Onyango and Nairobi police commander Adamson Bungei did not respond to requests for comment.

Police Inspector General Japhet Koome said in a statement they would not allow anyone to disrupt parliament’s proceedings, or occupy critical government infrastructure.

Protesters say the tax rises, aimed at reducing the budget deficit, will hurt the economy and raise the cost of living for Kenyans who are already struggling to make ends meet.

“Right now we are not paying taxes but we are fighting for our future. We need young people to fight for our future rights,” Theru Nderitu, a student who joined the protest, told Reuters in Nairobi.

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The government has ceded some ground due to public outcry on its planned tax measures.

parliamentary panel recommended on Tuesday that the government scrap some new taxes proposed in its finance bill, including new ones on car ownership, bread, cooking oil and financial transactions.

The panel also recommended that a fuel tax towards road maintenance be increased.

President Ruto was elected almost two years ago on a platform to help Kenya’s working poor but has faced repeated anti-tax protests. He has defended the tax increases, saying the government needs to reduce its reliance on borrowing.

He agreed with the parliament panel’s recommendations to scrap some of the government’s tax proposals.

‘RUTO MUST GO’

Elsewhere on Thursday, demonstrators in towns such as Nyeri, Nakuru, Eldoret, Isiolo, Mombasa and Kisumu called for lawmakers to drop the bill and waved placards with slogans such as “We say no to economic dictatorship”, and chanted “Ruto must go”. Those protests took place peacefully.

On Thursday afternoon, police also dispersed protesters in Eldoret.

The International Monetary Fund has urged the government to increase revenues in its 2024/25 budget to reduce state borrowing.

Lawmakers were debating the bill on Thursday in its second reading before parliament. Ruto has a majority in parliament, although some lawmakers allied to his coalition have expressed reservations about the bill.

Kimani Ichung’wah, the parliament’s majority leader, said lawmakers would meet on Tuesday to vote on the proposed changes to the bill.

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Ndindi Nyoro, chairperson of the parliament’s budget committee, said the Finance Ministry had told parliament that scrapping the handful of proposed tax hikes would lead to a revenue shortfall of 200 billion Kenyan shillings ($1.56 billion) in the 2024/25 budget, meaning equivalent spending cuts would have to be made.

By MONICAH MWANGI and JEFFERSON KAHINJU

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