Thousands in Kenya demonstrate against proposed new taxes

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thousands of mostly young people demonstrated Thursday in the Kenyan capital and across the country against new tax proposals from the president’s government William Ruto in its annual budget legislation.

The protests brought Nairobi’s central business district to a standstill as mounted riot police threw tear gas canisters and opened water cannons at demonstrators marching toward parliament buildings, where lawmakers were debating the funding bill.

The protesters, who began their demonstrations in a first round on Tuesday, are demanding that lawmakers vote against the legislation, which is expected to be burdensome on wage-earning Kenyans, entrepreneurs and consumers. They say Ruto has gone back on his promise to cut taxes and lower the cost of living.

The new taxes would include a 2.75% levy on income for national health insurance, as well as increased taxes on vegetable oil and fuel, which would increase production costs and trickle down to consumers.

Proposals to introduce a 16% value added tax on bread and a new annual tax on motor vehicles were removed from legislation on Tuesday following a meeting between Ruto and members of the ruling party.

But those who demonstrated Thursday said the amendments don’t go far enough and they want lawmakers to reject the budget legislation entirely.

“Our parents are dry, but there is no development to be seen. We reject any additional burden and will remain on the streets for as long as necessary,” said Ashley Mwai.

The 19-year-old who has never voted said the new taxes have made her get involved in politics for the first time, for the sake of her parents, who don’t have the energy to join the protests.

“Although I am not yet earning an income, additional taxes will increase the prices of food and transportation, making life unbearable for us young people,” Mwai said.

Businessman Walter Mwangi, 34, says he is struggling to make a living as taxes are already crippling his consultancy business. “We are sick and tired,” Mwangi said.

Lawmakers debated and voted on the legislation on second reading Thursday. The third and final lecture will take place next week. Meanwhile, protesters tried to break a security cordon to gain access to parliament buildings, carrying anti-government placards and chanting against Ruto.

The president attended a university event in the southeastern city of Garissa, where anti-government protesters lined the street leading to the event venue.

Youths also demonstrated in the president’s home town of Eldoret, telling journalists they had been tricked into voting for Ruto.

Ruto said earlier this week that protests are a constitutional right, but government institutions must carry out their mandates.

“We are a democratic country. Those who want to prove that are right, no problem. But decisions have to be made by institutions,” Ruto said on Wednesday.

“We will make decisions as an executive, put it to the legislature, the people of Kenya will speak to the country through public participation, others will subject it to legal proceedings and that is how democracy works and I am a big believer in democracy,” he said. said.

More than 200 people were arrested and later released during Tuesday’s protests.

The right to protest is enshrined in the Kenyan constitution and organizers must inform police, who often grant permission unless there are security concerns. Previous anti-government protests in Nairobi have often been met by police with demonstrators shot at by police in the past.

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