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Protestors stormed Kenya's parliament. Police responded with tear gas, live rounds


In Kenya, several people have been killed and scores injured as thousands of demonstrators marched against a controversial tax bill. The bill seeks to raise taxes, and today Parliament approved it. As protesters broke police lines and stormed into Parliament buildings in Nairobi, reporter Emmanuel Igunza was there to watch it all unfold. And a warning to listeners - you will hear gunfire in this piece.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Honorable members?

EMMANUEL IGUNZA, BYLINE: While the people protested outside, inside Kenya's Parliament, chaotic debate went on. Efforts to push through a controversial finance bill that will significantly increase the cost of goods and services in order to pay off foreign debt - and have sparked widespread outrage in Kenya.


IGUNZA: What started off as a peaceful protest last week has spiraled into violence on the streets of the capital Nairobi and beyond.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We are very peaceful.

IGUNZA: From early morning, thousands of protesters tried to march to Parliament, but they were stopped by heavily armed riot police who fired tear gas canisters and used water cannons to block them.


IGUNZA: Demonstrators, however, overwhelmed police, entered Parliament buildings and set fire to parts of the complex as lawmakers fled. They also burned part of City Hall.

Now there is a police truck just outside Parliament buildings that is on fire. And just above, we can hear the sound of a helicopter that has been hovering around Parliament buildings. And a section of the buildings does seem to be on fire. And this wave of protesters has been coming in since early morning, and they've managed to overwhelm the police completely and push them back. The air here is heavy from the tear gas that police have been lobbing at the protesters as they try to push them back. It's really a chaotic scene, with police here simply overwhelmed and seemingly on the back foot.

And when the smoke and chaos settled, scores had been killed and hundreds injured, many with gunshot wounds. Kenya's influential Catholic Church bishops and the opposition leader Kalonzo Musyoka condemned the police.


KALONZO MUSYOKA: This is not a matter that (inaudible) William Ruto can take lightly. The killings, we are saying, must stop.

IGUNZA: The White House, a strong ally of Kenya's president, William Ruto, have urged calm. Many human rights groups have accused the Kenyan police of heavy handed tactics in the past and again during this protest, renewed criticism that comes on the very same day the first contingent of Kenyan police officers have arrived in the Caribbean island of Haiti in order to restore peace.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Ruto must go. Ruto must go.

IGUNZA: These protests have largely been organized online by the youth who say the bill will increase the cost of living for millions already struggling. But the government says it will raise funds to pay of foreign debt that now stands at more than $80 billion borrowed mainly from China, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank. Tonight, President Ruto promised tough action against those who he says planned the violence.


PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO: I assure the nation that the government has mobilized all resources at the nation's disposal to ensure that a situation of this nature will not recur again at whatever cost.

IGUNZA: Ruto came into power promising to tackle corruption and improve the lives of ordinary Kenyans. But these latest protests are his biggest test yet and for Kenya since his election in 2022. For NPR News, I'm Emmanuel Igunza in Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Igunza