Kenya protesters call for President Ruto’s removal after tax bill dropped

Demonstrations continue across Kenya despite the government’s dramatic U-turn on legislation that would have raised taxes.

People gesture as they take part in a demonstration over police killings of people protesting against Kenya's proposed finance bill
Protesters in Kenya are angry over the government's economic policies [Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Police in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who rallied in another day of protests sparked by a controversial bill that would have raised taxes on essential goods.

Hundreds of people on Thursday took to the streets to call for President William Ruto’s removal, a day after he caved into young protesters’ demands to withdraw the deeply unpopular tax hike bill.

As protesters headed to Nairobi’s central business district, soldiers were deployed and police in anti-riot gear blocked access along roads leading to Ruto’s office at State House and Parliament of Kenya. Turnout by demonstrators was lower than in previous days after mass protests turned violent, killing more than 20 people, according to human rights groups.

The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) said on social media on Thursday that it had received credible reports of live fire being used against “civilians protesting across the country, resulting in some deaths”. It did not specify where the alleged incidents took place.

Hundreds of protesters also rallied in the port city of Mombasa and the opposition bastion of Kisumu, where some blocked roads and lit fires, TV footage showed. Protests were also reported in Kisii and Migori.

Seven people – two women and five men – sustained gunshot wounds in Homa Bay Town in western Kenya, Citizen TV news reported. The outlet said they were shot by police while protesting and then rushed to Homa Bay County Teaching and Referral Hospital.

A Police member walks near a gas cloud at a demonstration over police killings of people protesting against Kenya's proposed finance bill
A police officer walks near a gas cloud at a demonstration in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi [Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Protesters demand ‘Ruto must go!’

The youth-led protests kicked off last week and caught the authorities off-guard. Ruto’s government ricocheted between taking a tough line on the unrest and calling for dialogue.

On Wednesday, the president declined to sign the tax changes into law and withdrew the bill.

“The people have spoken,” he said, adding that he would seek “engagement with the young people of our nation”.

But protesters said they would still rally in memory of those killed in the demonstrations, criticising Ruto’s dramatic reversal as a case of too little, too late.

Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the protests in Nairobi, said there was an “ebb and flow” on Thursday on the streets, with flare-ups of tension between police and protesters followed by relative calm.

Young protesters in the capital said they would stop when the president steps down while chants of “Ruto must go, Ruto must go!” could be heard throughout the day.

“They want a change in the presidential leadership, and they want Parliament absent of what they describe as corrupt parliamentarians who do not have their interests at heart,” Basravi said.

Kasmuel McOure, a Kenyan youth leader and award-winning pianist, told Al Jazeera that Ruto is running a country that has very heavily disgruntled youth”.

“Kenya has been declared a military state. And I know nobody’s talking about that enough. But the army has been given free rein,” he said, adding he would continue protesting until the president “listens to the people of Kenya”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies