Tension and Tear Gas Linger in Kenya After Tax Protests Turn Deadly

A tense mood enveloped major cities across Kenya on Wednesday, a day after demonstrators against new tax increases stormed Parliament and set parts of it ablaze in actions that President William Ruto said posed an “existential danger” to the East African nation and prompted him to deploy the military.

In downtown Nairobi, the capital, the strong smell of tear gas still wafted through the air after the clashes between protesters and the police. Large rocks and a burned car were strewed next to the City Hall offices that protesters had breached. Across the street, the fence at the entrance to the Supreme Court complex was destroyed.

Police officers also cordoned off the streets leading to Parliament and were not allowing pedestrians to pass.

Although businesses were slowly reopening across Kenya, newspapers being sold on the streets of Nairobi captured the chaos of the previous day. “Pandemonium,” the front page of the Daily Nation newspaper said. “Deaths, chaos, rage,” The Star newspaper declared.

At least five people were killed and 31 others injured during the protests, according to Amnesty International and several prominent Kenyan civic organizations. Those numbers could not be immediately confirmed, and some activists said on Wednesday that the true toll could be higher.

Several people also put out calls on social media about friends, colleagues and family members who were last seen during the protests on Tuesday.

The wave of abductions that occurred in the days and hours leading up to the demonstrations have continued in their aftermath, activists said. About 50 young Kenyans have been abducted, said Faith Odhiambo, the president of the Law Society of Kenya. They had been vocal about the tax increases and had been threatened, physically trailed and their communications monitored, she said. Those abducted included Ms. Odhiambo’s personal assistant, she said in a statement.

Rights groups have long accused Kenya’s police force of kidnappings and extrajudicial disappearances. The abductions have rattled the country, and prompted chief justice Martha Koome to condemn them on Tuesday.

Justice Koome called for detainees to be presented in court within 24 hours and urged the judiciary to properly investigate and address any accusations. The abductions, she said, “amount to a direct assault on the rule of law, human rights and constitutionalism, which are our guiding national values.”

Two of the abducted were released on Tuesday, according to Ms. Odhiambo. But others remained missing, including Gabriel Oguda, an activist and policy analyst, and Kasmuel McOure, a musician and activist whom The New York Times interviewed in the past few days, Ms. Odhiambo said.

One prominent protester, who declined to be named for safety reasons, said on Wednesday that he had survived an abduction attempt and was in hiding. The protester said that several men had tried to bundle him into a car near his home but that he had run away after members of the public swamped them.

Tuesday’s protests were the largest so far over a finance bill that Mr. Ruto’s government introduced last month to raise revenue by imposing additional taxes. The government says the bill is necessary not only to pay the country’s high debt but also to cover the costs of initiatives like roads, rural electrification and farming subsidies.

But the legislation has stoked widespread discontent among the public, with opponents arguing that it will onerously increase the cost of living. Critics of the bill have also pointed to the lavish lifestyles of Mr. Ruto and members of his administration, and have called on officials to limit their expenses. Young protesters, who observers say have largely initiated and guided the demonstrations, have also been incensed by the dismissive way in which some leaders have addressed their concerns.

On Tuesday, as lawmakers debated and voted on the bill, protesters in Nairobi marched to Parliament to urge them to back down. But Mr. Ruto’s alliance, which has a majority in Parliament, quickly passed the legislation.

Tensions gripped the city soon afterward, with large crowds reaching Parliament, scaling its walls and pillaging parts of the facilities. After sundown, Defense Minister Aden Duale said he would deploy the military to support the police in dealing with the “security emergency” in the country.

An hour later, Mr. Ruto struck an uncompromising tone in a televised speech, calling the protests “treasonous” and blaming “criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters” for the violence.

“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,” Mr. Ruto said.

On Wednesday, political leaders and rights groups urged the president to de-escalate the situation. Raila Odinga, the opposition leader who lost to Mr. Ruto in the 2022 elections, called on him to scrap the bill and talk with the protesters.

“Kenya cannot afford to kill its children just because the children are asking for food, jobs and a listening ear,” Mr. Odinga said in a statement.

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