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Kenya’s opposition set for second day of tax-hike protests | News

Kenya’s opposition is due to protest for a second day on Thursday over the high cost of living and tax hikes after police clashed with demonstrators and arrested at least 300 people on Wednesday.

“The voice of the people must be heard. Our peaceful protest continues,” opposition leader Raila Odinga wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning.

The Wednesday-to-Friday demonstrations are the third round of protests that the opposition has called for this month.

Senior opposition leaders were arrested after demonstrators hurled rocks at police and security forces fired volleys of tear gas.

In Mathare, a settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, police reported one person had been shot dead. A senior police officer told Al Jazeera that police were investigating the cause of death. Al Jazeera also saw one person who had been shot and injured in the stomach. He was taken to a nearby hospital.

Local newspaper The Nation reported that Odinga’s Azimio opposition party had called upon its supporters to assemble at Huruma grounds, Kangemi grounds and Central Park in the capital Nairobi on Thursday.

On its Twitter page, the newspaper published photographs of armed officers on standby in Nairobi’s central business district where there was a “semblance of normality” as of 9am local time (06:00 GMT).

According to Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, government forces were deployed in “hotspot areas where protests normally occur” within the capital on Wednesday. Schools were closed and many businesses shuttered across Nairobi.

Veteran politician Odinga lost last August’s election to President William Ruto, his fifth loss in a presidential election.

Odinga has repeatedly asked his followers to engage in acts of civil disobedience against a government he accuses of raising the cost of living and consolidating power.

Ruto has pledged to champion the interests of the poor, but the price of basic commodities has ballooned under his administration. His government argues higher taxes are necessary to help deal with growing debt repayments and to fund job creation initiatives.

A group of women carrying a man injured during protests to a nearby hospital in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya
A group of women carrying a man injured during protests to a nearby hospital in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya on July 19, 2023 [Immaculate Akello/Al Jazeera]

Odinga allies arrested

The opposition condemned the arrest of several Odinga allies. Lawmaker Babu Owino was arrested at the airport in the coastal town of Mombasa on Wednesday, where he had planned to lead the protests.

The member of parliament Ken Chonga was also arrested with some of his loyalists during a gathering ahead of a march in Kilimo county in Coastal Kenya.

“We pleaded with them to stay there as we addressed the residents but they insisted we should disperse. They arrested us,” Chonga told journalists at Kilifi Police Station on Wednesday.

Police also arrested Calvin Okoth, a youth leader in the Jacaranda Grounds People’s Parliament.

‘Can’t seek leadership through bloodshed’

Opposition leader Raila Odinga had vowed to lead his supporters to the street after the president assented to a new finance law imposing new taxes, and increasing some taxes on June 26.

A court ruling halted the implementation of the order but fuel prices were increased from 8 to 16 percent VAT in accordance with the new law.

President Ruto and the interior minister on Friday warned that the Wednesday protests would not be allowed.

“I want to tell Raila Odinga that elections ended on August 8 last year,” Ruto told his supporters in Nakuru. “You can’t seek the leadership of our country through bloodshed, deaths and destruction of property. There is no way you will change Kenya through the route you have taken.”

Odinga alleges assassination plot

Last Wednesday, Odinga had claimed that the government had hatched a plot to assassinate him during the demonstrations this week but stated that the marches would continue as planned. Odinga said his car was shot at multiple times on Wednesday while he was driving around the capital, rallying protesters.

He showed journalists dents on his armoured vehicle which he said were left by bullets.

“There is no mistaking, for that the intention was basically to kill,” Odinga said, “I don’t think any police officer could aim to come to shoot and assassinate politicians without being commanded from the very top,” Odinga said.

The government in a rebuttal called for the closure of day schools in Nairobi and Mombasa as they dealt with protesters. During the protests last Wednesday last week, more than 30 pupils were rushed to hospital after police dispersing protesters lobbed teargas into the school compound.

While speaking to his supporters in Kericho on Wednesday, President Ruto said demonstrations would not lower the cost of living.

“Will the cost of maize flour be lowered by protesting with sufuria on the head? Even if it means protesting for a year? If someone stops demonstrating, goes to the farm and till the land, will the price of maize flour fail to drop?” Ruto questioned the crowd.

Additional reporting by Immaculate Akello in Nairobi, Kenya.


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