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Kenya’s president calls protests ‘treasonous’ after police fire live rounds at demonstrators


By Larry Madowo, Stephanie Busari, Catherine Nicholls and Sugam Pokharel, CNN

(CNN) — Kenyan President William Ruto denounced protests on Tuesday that saw parliament stormed and at least five people shot dead as “treasonous” – but did not address the swelling outrage against a controversial finance bill that sparked the widespread demonstrations.

Kenya is in the grip of nationwide protests against proposed tax hikes, culminating in Tuesday’s “total shutdown” of the country, which quickly turned violent as police used tear gas and live rounds on protesters.

The controversial finance bill has unleashed widespread protests movement vowing for “7 Days of Rage.” Last week, the government scrapped some tax increases, including a proposed 16% value-added tax on bread along with taxes on motor vehicles, vegetable oil and mobile money transfers. But the concessions have not been enough to quell protests amid the rising cost of living.

A CNN team saw two bodies lying motionless on the ground in Nairobi as the country’s parliament was breached. Kenyan police were also seen beating and later arresting some paramedics who were helping injured protesters.

During a nationwide address after parliament was set alight, Ruto said the events on Tuesday were a grave threat to “national security” and that the conversation around the bill had been “hijacked by dangerous people.”

“It is not in order, or even conceivable, that criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters can reign terror against the people, their elected representatives, and the institutions established under our Constitution and expect to go scot-free,” the president said, adding that democratic expression and crime must be isolated from one another.

Kenya’s defense ministry said the military has been deployed to support the country’s police services as human rights and civil society groups criticize the heavy-handed response by the police on Tuesday.

It was reported that at least five people were shot dead and around 31 were injured during Tuesday’s protests. Of these, 13 were hit with live bullets, four with rubber bullets, and three with launcher canisters, according to a joint statement by Amnesty International Kenya, the Kenya Medical Association, the Law Society of Kenya, and Police Reforms Working Group Kenya.

The joint statement also accused the police of shooting at a medical emergency center located at a church. CNN has reached out to the Kenyan police for comment.

“The use of live bullets must now stop,” the statement said. “Despite the assurance by the government that the right to assembly would be protected and facilitated, today’s protests have spiraled into violence. Human rights observers and medical officers have reported several incidents of human rights violation.”

The demonstrations, sparked by the Finance Bill 2024, have seen citizens rally under the banner of “7 Days of Rage,” as the nation faces more days of upheaval.

The dramatic scenes that unfolded in the nation’s capital saw government buildings set on fire and a ceremonial mace stolen from Parliament in the melee. Kenyan lawmakers were evacuated from Parliament as police went up against protesters, CNN affiliate NTV Kenya reported.

Internet monitoring site NetBlocks reported a “major disruption” to internet connectivity Tuesday.

Nairobi’s City Hall, the office of the Governor of Nairobi, was also set on fire, live visuals from CNN affiliate Citizen TV showed.

A fire could be seen blazing through a lower-ground window, with other windows also emitting smoke. According to Citizen TV, some people were seen removing furniture, including chairs, from the building.

Vehicles parked at Kenya’s Supreme Court, which is close to the City Hall, were also set on fire.

Earlier on Tuesday, Auma Obama, the half-sister of former United States President Barack Obama, was teargassed by police during an interview with CNN live on air, while protesting against the bill.

“I can’t even see anymore, we’re being teargassed,” Obama said in dramatic footage captured by a CNN team on the ground. Obama, a Kenyan-British activist, was speaking to CNN alongside a group of young protesters when the group was teargassed in Nairobi.

A spokesman for former President Obama declined to comment on the tear gas incident on Tuesday.

“I’m here because look at what’s happening. Young Kenyans are demonstrating for their rights. They are demonstrating with flags and banners,” Obama said.

Accusations of abductions

Security forces have also been accused of abducting prominent Kenyans, particularly those who have large social media followings Amnesty International Kenya says it is investigating the whereabouts of up to 12 people who were “abducted in the middle of night” ahead of Tuesday’s planned protests.

The list includes bloggers, content creators, human rights defenders, a doctor, and a parliamentary staffer, Amnesty Kenya executive director Irũngũ Houghton told CNN.

“We are horrified by some of the testimonies we have heard over the last 24 hours. We have about 12 people unaccounted for who have been picked up, in many cases, by people who are uniformed or not uniformed,” Houghton said, adding that that they had not received legal assistance and their families didn’t know their whereabouts.

“We are now seeing not just abductions but disappearances,” he said.
CNN has reached out to the Kenyan police for comment.

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga called for the government to “immediately stop the violence its agencies are meting out on citizens.” In a statement on X, Odinga also called for the arrest of police officers who are alleged to have shot and killed protesters, as well as for the immediate withdrawal of the country’s controversial finance bill.

International leaders urged for calm on Tuesday.

The United Nations Secretary General called on Kenya’s police and security forces to “exercise restraint,” his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday, adding that he was “deeply concerned over the reported violence that we’ve seen.”

The African Union Commission called on all stakeholders to refrain from further violence. A statement from the body said its chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urges “all stakeholders to exercise calm and refrain from further violence. The chairperson also appeals to national stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue to address the contentious issues that led to the protests in the supreme interest of Kenya.”

The protests come as Kenya’s standing gains global prominence as US President Joe Biden designated the country a “major non-NATO ally” on Monday, marking the first time a sub-Saharan African nation has received this status.

In May, Biden announced his decision to elevate Kenya to this designation while hosting President Ruto at the White House for a grand state visit, celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Tuesday also saw hundreds of Kenyan police officers arrive in Haiti’s capital to lead a multinational mission to support Haiti’s National Police in battling deadly gangs that have seized control of much of Port-au-Prince.

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This story has been updated with additional information.

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