Police in Kenya fired tear gas at protesters during clashes that left at least 12 people wounded Wednesday as the opposition organized demonstrations calling for the government of President William Ruto to lower the cost of living.
The opposition called for three days of countrywide protests aimed at forcing the president to repeal a finance law imposing new taxes.
Ruto had pledged that no protests would take place, saying he would take opposition leader Raila Odinga “head-on.”
The opposition in a statement condemned the arrests of seven elected leaders and two close associates of Odinga, calling it a “desperate attempt” by the Ruto administration to paralyse the opposition.
Businesses and schools in Nairobi were closed as police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters.
Demonstrations were reported in several other parts of the country including the western counties of Kisumu, Migori and Kisii where the opposition enjoys huge support.
Police had said the protests were illegal as no permit had been issued, but the right to peaceful protests is enshrined in the Kenyan constitution.
Last week’s protests killed at least 10 people. 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 on Wednesday issued a statement reiterating that “no further blood should be shed” and urged the president to repeal the newly passed Finance Act 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 percent. The prices have taken effect despite a court order suspending the implementation of the controversial new taxes.
This week, the International Monetary Fund called the law’s approval a “crucial” step towards reducing Kenya’s debt vulnerabilities.
Western envoys from 13 countries issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling for dialogue and expressed concern about the loss of lives and destruction of property.
Human Rights Watch also urged political leaders to stop labelling protesters as “terrorists” and respect the right to peaceful protests. The group called out the police for using force and live bullets to confront protesters.