Kenyan Police Clash with Protesters as Tax Hikes Fuel Unrest

Kenyan Police Clash with Protesters as Tax Hikes Fuel Unrest

Clashes between Kenyan police officers and stone-throwing protesters broke out in cities around the country on Wednesday as a second wave of demonstrations against a raft of tax hikes took place.

The protests were called by main opposition leader Raila Odinga in response to the hikes, which were signed into law by President William Ruto last month. The demonstrations were reminiscent of those seen earlier this year as Kenyans expressed their discontent over the high cost of living and alleged election irregularities.

Once again, civic leaders warned against a return to the ethically charged violence that has plagued Kenya in the past. Police officers fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and several other cities.

According to local media reports, three schoolchildren were rushed to the hospital after police sprayed tear gas into their school while dispersing protesters. Six people were killed during last week’s protests against the taxes.

The taxes, which include a doubling of the fuel tax and introduction of a levy to fund affordable housing, are meant to raise an extra 200 billion Kenyan shillings ($1.42bn) a year to deal with growing debt repayments and fund job-creation initiatives.

However, the government has raised petrol prices despite the High Court suspending the implementation of the legislation pending a legal challenge. Ruto’s administration claims the debt burden, which stood at $34bn at the beginning of the year, was inherited from his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta.

Annual interest payments on domestic debt alone have surged from 180 billion shillings ($1.34bn) a decade ago to 680 billion shillings ($5.09bn) this year, putting tremendous pressure on the government’s cash flow. Despite the High Court’s suspension of the tax hikes, protesters remain unconvinced.

“We are out here because we are tired,” said Ibrahim Stanley, a protester in Nairobi’s informal Kibera settlement. Opposition leader Raila Odinga was due to address protesters in Nairobi later on Wednesday.

Talks between the government and opposition were put on pause in April, but it remains to be seen if Odinga’s address will lead to further protests and unrest.

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