Kenyan police use tear gas to stop protests over tax hikes

The protests are to oppose tax increases imposed amid soaring cost of living, despite a court-ordered suspension.

Kenyan police have used tear gas to disperse protesters marching on Friday against a new finance law that has doubled the fuel tax and introduced a housing levy for employees.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has called the protests to oppose tax increases that were imposed despite a court-ordered suspension and came at a time when many people were already struggling with persistently high prices of basic commodities such as maize flour.

Footage aired on the privately owned television channel KTN News showed motorists scrambling to turn around on a street within the port city of Mombasa that had become hazy with tear gas, as protesters fled on foot.

More tear gas was fired in the capital, Nairobi, the private Daily Nation newspaper reported, as police sought to break up protesters who had barricaded sections of two roads. Local media outlet The Star reported that dozens of protesters were arrested.

Shops and businesses were still open in the main central business district.

President William Ruto’s government says the tax hikes, expected to raise an extra 200 billion shillings ($1.42bn) a year, are needed to help deal with growing debt repayments and fund job-creating initiatives.

Police have allowed the opposition’s main rally to go ahead, but warned against the destruction of properties and businesses. National police spokeswoman Resila Onyango did not respond immediately to requests from the Reuters news agency for comments.

Opposition leader Odinga and other leaders in his Azimio coalition are scheduled to address a rally in the historic Kamukunji ground in the capital – the scene of intense clashes between the police and agitators for multiparty democracy 33 years ago to the day.

The High Court suspended the implementation of the finance law last week but the government raised retail prices of petrol anyway, forcing the opposition senator who lodged the case to seek the jailing of the head of the energy sector regulator for contempt.

The court will rule on the contempt application on Monday and give further directions on the main suit.Earlier this year, thousands of Kenyans heeded the veteran opposition leader’s calls for anti-government protests on Mondays and Thursdays and held three rallies – despite a government ban on demonstrations.