Biting the Dust

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Protesters set parts of Kenya’s parliament ablaze on Tuesday amid mass demonstrations against tax hikes in which more than 20 people were killed and led to President William Ruto scrapping the controversial bill, Reuters reported.

“I concede,” the president said in a televised address on Wednesday as he announced he would not sign the 2024 finance bill. The package of contested measures was approved by lawmakers the day before and sparked protests across Kenya, in the worst crisis since Ruto came to power nearly two years ago.

Violence culminated on Tuesday as police fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters. Medics and human rights advocates said at least 22 people were killed.

Amid police shots, protesters stormed the nation’s parliament in the capital Nairobi and set a part of the building on fire. It was the biggest assault on Kenya’s governing institutions in decades, the Associated Press wrote.

Buildings and vehicles were also set ablaze in Ruto’s stronghold Eldoret, Kenya’s Daily Nation reported.

In an initial address, the president called the protests “treasonous” and a threat to “national security.”

Meanwhile, protesters online vowed to continue their demonstrations, voicing plans to invade the State House – the presidential office and residence – on Thursday, as well as local offices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday.

As he caved to pressure by withdrawing the finance bill Wednesday, Ruto said he would launch a conversation with the nation’s youth.

Though a welcome victory for protesters, the withdrawal was received with some bitterness following the dozens of deaths seen Tuesday, with one activist calling the president’s decision a public relations move.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations said they were investigating the alleged abductions of over a dozen people, including influential online content creators, by security forces.

The protest movement began online as citizens expressed frustration at proposed tax raises on items including bread and diapers. Though lawmakers took bread and cooking oil off the list before passing the bill, the amendments did not suffice to tame the angry mobs.

Ruto, who some protesters called on to step down, now has to juggle between Kenyans’ outcry against rising living costs and IMF demands for deficit cuts.

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