Calls for 'restraint on all sides' as demonstrators storm Kenya's parliament amid deadly protest

Ambassadors in Kenya have called for “restraint on all sides” after at least five people were killed and sections of the nation’s parliament set ablaze as demonstrators tried to storm the building.

The incident came on Tuesday as nationwide protests over tax reform escalated.

Lawmakers had just passed a contentious bill that would introduce new taxes.Police opened fire on demonstrators trying to storm Kenya's legislature in Nairobi, with at least five protesters killed, dozens wounded and sections of the parliament building set ablaze.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, ambassadors said: “We regret loss of life and injuries sustained, including the use of live fire.”

“We call for restraint on all sides and encourage leaders to find peaceful solutions.”

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga also demanded an immediate end to violence against protesters and has called for dialogue and international intervention, KTN News reported.

In chaotic scenes on Tuesday, protesters overwhelmed police and chased them away in an attempt to storm the parliament compound. Flames could be seen coming from inside.

Police opened fire with bullets, after tear gas and water cannon failed to disperse crowds of hundreds of demonstrators.

A Reuters journalist counted the bodies of at least five protesters outside parliament. A paramedic, Vivian Achista, said at least 10 had been shot dead.

Another paramedic, Richard Ngumo, told news agency Reuters more than 50 people had been wounded by gunfire. He was lifting two injured protesters into an ambulance outside parliament.

Legislators fled through a tunnel, but protesters allowed opposition legislators who voted against the bill to walk out of the besieged building, according to reports.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission shared a video of officers shooting at protesters and said they would be held to account.

Two people died in similar protests last week.

Protesters retreat from a cloud of tear gas (AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters retreat from a cloud of tear gas (AFP via Getty Images)

"We want to shut down parliament and every MP should go down and resign," one protestor, Davis Tafari, trying to enter parliament, told Reuters. "We will have a new government."

Protests and clashes also took place in several other cities and towns across the country.

Parliament approved the finance bill, moving it through to a third reading by lawmakers. The next step is for the legislation to be sent to the president for signing. He can send it back to parliament if he has any objections.

Protesters scatter as police spray a water canon (AP)
Protesters scatter as police spray a water canon (AP)

The protesters oppose tax rises in a country already reeling from a cost-of-living crisis, and many are also calling for President William Ruto to step down.

Ruto won an election almost two years ago on a platform of championing Kenya's working poor, but has been caught between the competing demands of lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, which is urging the government to cut deficits to access more funding, and a hard-pressed population.

Kenyans have been struggling to cope with several economic shocks caused by the lingering impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, two consecutive years of droughts and depreciation of the currency.

Police spray a water canon at protesters (AP)
Police spray a water canon at protesters (AP)

The finance bill aims to raise an additional $2.7billion (£2.1billion) in taxes as part of an effort to lighten the heavy debt load, with interest payments alone consuming 37 per cent of annual revenue.

The government has already made some concessions, promising to scrap proposed new taxes on bread, cooking oil, car ownership and financial transactions. But that has not been enough to satisfy protesters.

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