NAIROBI, KENYA – Kenyans angry over the high cost of living and tax hikes were set to continue protests Thursday, a day after police opened fire on protesters, killing at least two and wounding 26 more.
“The voice of the people must be heard. Our peaceful protest continues,” opposition leader Raila Odinga wrote on Twitter.
Kenyan President William Ruto, meanwhile, has vowed that no protests would take place, saying he would take Odinga “head-on.”
The Wednesday-to-Friday demonstrations are the third round of protests that the opposition has called this month.
The Nation newspaper reported that Odinga’s Azimio opposition party had called for its supporters to assemble at Huruma grounds, Kangemi grounds and Central Park in the capital, Nairobi, Thursday.
The Kenyan Interior Ministry said Wednesday that more than 300 people were arrested during the protests and will be charged with crimes that include looting, destroying property and assaulting police.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua said the protests have been politically instigated and have been far from peaceful as the opposition has characterized them.
“What we have witnessed are violent protests with those involved carrying all manner of crude weapons,” he said. “We have seen goons destroy our highways with no police around. That is not a peaceful protest.”
Authorities did not comment on the dead and wounded or respond to witness allegations that police officers had at times fired into homes.
The opposition condemned the arrests of seven elected leaders and two close associates of Odinga, describing them in a statement as a “desperate attempt” by the Ruto administration to paralyze the opposition.
The opposition said protests would continue Thursday.
The Media Council of Kenya alleged cases of police masquerading as journalists “with intent to arrest protesters.” In a statement, the council called such behavior “grave unprofessional conduct.”
Businesses and schools in Nairobi were closed as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. Demonstrations were reported in several other parts of the country, including the western counties of Migori and Kisii, where the opposition enjoys huge support.
Police had said the protests were illegal as no permit for them was issued, but the right to peaceful protests is enshrined in the Kenyan constitution.
Wednesday in Nairobi’s Kibera district, Omondi Diatiene said he was ready to protest as long as it takes.
“We are protesting today because the standards (costs) of living in this country have gone drastically up,” he said. “They are going up each and every day. We don’t need Ruto, that’s it. He’s already shown us he’s a very stubborn man, he’s not ready to listen to the people.”
During similar protests last week, at least 10 people were killed, according to watchdogs. A police officer confirmed at least six deaths to the AP. Many others were injured, including 53 children who went into shock after tear gas was thrown inside their school compound.
Religious leaders have called for dialogue between the government and the opposition to end the protests. Catholic bishops Wednesday issued a statement saying, “no further blood should be shed” and urged the president to repeal the finance law that has agitated many Kenyans.
The law has raised the price of fuel to its highest level as the government implements a doubling of value added tax on petroleum products to 16%. The prices have taken effect despite a court order suspending the implementation of the controversial new taxes.
A Nairobi resident, Wycliffe Onyango, said his entire earnings are spent on food. “Right now there is no work going on. We are suffering. I plead with the government to deal with the cost of living,” he said.
The International Monetary Fund this week called the law’s approval a “crucial” step toward reducing Kenya’s debt vulnerabilities.
Western envoys from 13 countries on Tuesday issued a joint statement calling for dialogue and expressed concern over the loss of lives and destruction of property.
The Kenya Medical Association said its members had attended to “hundreds of injured Kenyans and witnessed tens of fatalities” as a result of protests in recent months, and access to health facilities was limited for patients and workers, leading to increased mortality.
Human Rights Watch urged political leaders to stop labelling protesters as “terrorists” and respect the right to peaceful protests. The group also called out the police for using force and live bullets to confront protesters.
VOA’s Mariama Diallo contributed to this report. Some information in this report came from Reuters.