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Kenyan govt bows to pressure, withdraws tax plan after violent protest

President William Ruto, has planned tax rises, bowing to pressure from protesters who had stormed parliament, launched demonstrations across Kenya, and threatened more action this…

President William Ruto, has planned tax rises, bowing to pressure from protesters who had stormed parliament, launched demonstrations across Kenya, and threatened more action this week.

Ruto said he would not sign a finance bill including the hikes a day after violent clashes between police and protesters at the assembly and nationwide left at least 23 people dead and scores wounded, according to medics.

“Listening keenly to the people of Kenya who have said loudly that they want nothing to do with this finance bill 2024, I concede. Therefore, I will not sign the 2024 finance bill, and it shall subsequently be withdrawn,” the president said in a televised address.

Ruto said he would now start a dialogue with Kenyan youth, without going into details, and work on austerity measures – starting with cuts to the budget of the presidency – to make up the difference in the country’s finances.

The move will be seen as a major victory for a week-old protest movement that grew from online condemnations of tax increases into mass rallies demanding a political overhaul, in the most serious crisis of Ruto’s two-year-old presidency.

It may see off the immediate threat of more unrest but leaves Ruto still caught between the competing demands of his hard-pressed citizens and of lenders such as the IMF – which is urging the government to cut deficits to obtain more financing.

On Tuesday, police opened fire on crowds who massed around parliament and later broke into the assembly’s compound, minutes after lawmakers had voted through the tax measures and sent them on to the president.

A local newspaper documented protests in at least 35 of Kenya’s 47 counties, from big cities to rural areas – even in Ruto’s hometown of Eldoret in his ethnic Kalenjin heartland.

At least 23 people were killed across the East African country and another 30 were being treated for bullet wounds, the Kenya Medical Association said on Wednesday. Medical officials in Nairobi said scores had been injured.

Protesters had earlier vowed to keep up their demonstrations in messages on social media using the hashtag #tupatanethursday, or “see you on Thursday” in a mix of Swahili and English.

Posts on social media had urged people to occupy State House, the president’s office and residence, on Thursday, and the local offices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday, though it was not immediately clear if the calls came from individuals or a broader movement.

Heavily armed police patrolled the streets of the capital Nairobi, which were quieter than usual on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The protests began as an online outpouring of anger by young, tech-savvy Kenyans at proposed taxes on bread and diapers and evolved into a nationwide movement calling for the scrapping of the entire finance bill including the taxes.

Thousands took to the streets of Nairobi and several other cities during two days of protests last week as an online movement gathered momentum.

Lawmakers had already removed some tax hikes from the final version of the finance bill on Tuesday, including ones on bread and cooking oil, but inserted others in an effort to avoid a budget gap.

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