NAIROBI, Kenya — A police official said officers killed six people Wednesday during new protests in Kenya against the rising cost of living, while a health worker said more than 50 schoolchildren in the capital, Nairobi, were tear-gassed. The opposition leader behind the demonstrations vowed they would continue until a new law imposing more taxes is repealed.
The police official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said three people were killed in Mlolongo city in Machakos county, two in Kitengela town near Nairobi, and one in the town of Emali on the highway to the port city of Mombasa. The officer said more than 10 others were taken to hospitals.
The official said the six who were killed were shot for disrupting businesses, without elaborating. Kenyan police have been criticized by human rights watchdogs for their sometimes deadly response to such protests.
Fifty-three children were treated after tear gas was thrown into their school, a health records worker at the Eagle Nursing Home clinic in Nairobi’s Kangemi neighborhood told the AP. The children aged 10 to about 15 had been in shock, said Alvin Sikuku. “At this point they are OK, with their parents,” he said Wednesday evening, and tensions around the incident were fading: “Right now, things are cool.”
One civil society watchdog, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, said in a statement it was “horrifying to hear about police officers using such excessive force.”
In other parts of Nairobi, hundreds of protesters burned tires and dismantled part of an entrance to a recently built toll expressway that for some stands as a symbol of inequality — a relatively lightly traveled highway by those who can afford it as everyday traffic surges below. Traffic came to a halt amid the chaos.
Kenya’s interior ministry in a statement accused opposition supporters of “extensive damage of major public assets” and asserted that scores of civilians and law enforcement officers were injured.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who lost last year’s election to President William Ruto, has repeatedly called on Kenyans to protest as the country struggles with debt and rising prices.
Odinga told journalists that such protests will continue, and he accused police of blocking access to the site where he had planned to make a speech.
“All our engagements are peaceful until the police show up,” Odinga said.
New taxes have added to frustration in East Africa’s economic hub, with inflation at around 8%. Taxes on petroleum products, including gasoline, have doubled from 8% to 16%, which is expected to have a ripple effect.
Odinga called on Ruto to repeal the act imposing the new measures. “People are tired of going to bed hungry, facing the new day hungry and returning to bed hungry,” he said.
Most Kenyans either get on with their day or stay home during such demonstrations, but the economic toll is yet another challenge for Ruto, who won election after appealing to Kenyans as a fellow “hustler” of modest background and vowing to lessen their financial pain.
“Our children are not going to school, we are not affording food. Now we cannot go to work due to the protest,” said Lilian Anyango, a Nairobi resident. “We do not have options. We do not know what we will do with the current government.”
Police have been criticized by watchdogs for their assertion that any demonstration needs advance notification “in the interest of national security.” Kenya’s constitution includes the right to peacefully demonstrate.
“All lawful means will be used to disperse such demonstrations,” the national police inspector general, Japhet Koome, said in a letter Tuesday.