Anger after protester shot dead at Kenya anti-tax demos

A masked Kenyan police officer fires a tear gas canister during a demonstration against tax hikes as Members of the Parliament vote the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, Kenya - 20 June 2024
Police fired tear gas at protesters in Nairobi near parliament where MPs were debating the controversial bill [AFP]

Anti-tax protesters in Kenya are in shock after a 29-year-old man was killed during nationwide demonstrations against a new finance bill.

Rex Kanyike Masai, who was protesting on Thursday in the centre of Nairobi, died of gunshot wounds, a doctor from a hospital in the capital has told a local newspaper.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons at largely peaceful protesters near parliament as lawmakers were debating proposals to bring in new taxes.

Amnesty International has accused the police of using excessive force to contain protesters, many of whom were arrested.

When the protests, dubbed "Occupy Parliament", began on Tuesday, the public outcry forced the government to withdraw some of the contentious proposals, including a 16% tax on bread and an annual 2.5% tax on vehicles.

But it has not stemmed the anger of the mainly youthful protesters, their ire focused on the government of President William Ruto.

Since becoming president, he has introduced several new and unpopular taxes, which critics say stifle economic growth and lead to job losses.

The police say they have visited the scene of the shooting and are investigating the circumstances of Mr Masai’s death.

Activist Boniface Mwangi has said the young man was only carrying a national identity card and his phone and had not been armed.

His mother, Gillian Munyao, told journalists that her son joined protests after work and he was evading tear gas when he was shot in the city centre.

"The only mistake Rex did was to defend the rights of everyone, we want justice for our child," Ms Munyao added.

His father, Chrispin Odawa, said he was a "very calm, peaceful and obedient child".

Mr Masai was taken to Bliss Hospital along Nairobi's Moi Avenue where he was pronounced dead, officials there said.

“He was shot in the upper middle part of the thigh. It appears he bled to death before being brought to our facility,” a doctor told Kenya’s Nation news website.

Kenyans have taken to social media to mourn and demand justice for the young man.

"We will print posters with Rex’s face and name around Nairobi terming him as a hero. We will cover the burial expenses as well," Hanifa Farsafi, reportedly one of the protests' organisers, posted on X, formerly Twitter.

"My heart is absolutely broken... but it was not in vain," she added.

The country's Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa) says it has launched investigations into the shooting.

The opposition coalition, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya, has termed the shooting a "tragic event with far-reaching consequences", and called on the country's police chief Japhet Koome to resign.

A total of 39 people were injured during Thursday's protests, with eight of among them in critical condition, according to the Kenya Red Cross.

They most seriously injured have been evacuated to Kenyatta National Hospital, the country's biggest referral hospital, for further treatment.

On Tuesday, a police officer lost both his arms after a tear gas canister exploded before he threw it.

He was among hundreds of police officers who have been deployed to contain the protests in Nairobi.

Amnesty International alleged some police officers had been using fire arms and said more than 100 people were arrested on Thursday.

"There is confirmation of live shootings verified by the presence of spent cartridges," the rights group said.

The victims suffered wounds ranging from “soft tissue injuries and inhalation of tear gas”, it added.

Faith Odhiambo, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president, condemned the "brutality" of the police and the "illegal" arrest of protesters.

The police service has yet to comment on the accusations.

But in an earlier statement, the police chief had said protesters would not be permitted to access critical government infrastructure or disrupt parliamentary proceedings.

Despite the demonstrations, the controversial bill was passed by a majority of MPs during its second reading on Thursday.

It will now go on to the next stage where a committee will consider amendments - and the final vote is expected next Tuesday.

The protesters want MPs to reject the entire bill.

The government has often defended the tax measures as necessary to reduce the country’s national debt of nearly $80bn (£63bn).

Protesters (C) are pushed away by a water canon that was trying to disperse them as they took part in a demonstration against a controversial tax bill in the central business district in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 June 2024.
Police are accused of using excessive force to contain the protesters [EPA]
A protester takes a selfie in front of a Kenyan police water canon during a demonstration against tax hikes as Members of the Parliament vote the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairoibi, on June 20, 2024.
Some protesters were streaming the demonstrations on TikTok [AFP]
A protester throws back a tear gas canister at Kenyan anti-riot police officers during a demonstration against tax hikes as Members of the Parliament continue to debate the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi on June 20, 2024.
The government has said it needs to raise taxes to cut the country's reliance on external borrowing [AFP]

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