President Ruto open to talks, as Kenya probes police conduct in youth protests


NAIROBI — Kenya’s President William Ruto expressed willingness to engage in dialogue with thousands of young protesters who demonstrated against proposed tax increases, a presidency official said Sunday.

Kenya Youth Protests
Image: Associated Press 

The protests, led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans who livestreamed the events, took the government by surprise as dissatisfaction grows over Ruto’s economic policies.

“Our young people have stepped forward to engage on the affairs of their country. They've done their democratic duty, to stand and be recognized. I'm proud of them,” Ruto said in a statement shared by presidency spokesman Hussein Mohamed on X, formerly Twitter. 

“We’ll have a conversation with you to identify your issues and work together as a nation,” he added, marking his first public comments on the protests.

Two people died and dozens were injured in Thursday’s demonstrations in Nairobi, according to rights campaigners. While the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters near parliament.

The rallies began in Nairobi on Tuesday and spread nationwide, culminating in calls for a national strike on June 25. Ruto’s administration defended the proposed levies as essential for bolstering the national budget and reducing reliance on external borrowing.

Meanwhile, an investigation into police conduct during the protests commenced on Friday, according to Kenya’s police watchdog. 

Anne Makori, chairperson of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, praised the peaceful demonstrators and urged police restraint, highlighting the fatalities and injuries among protesters and officers.

Thousands marched in Nairobi and other major cities, demanding legislators reject a finance bill introducing new taxes. Gillian Munyao, mother of Rex Munyao, a 29-year-old man killed during the protests, recounted her son’s death. 

“His friend noticed he had fallen and went to check on him only to find him bleeding heavily. He asked a passerby to help them and police who were walking towards them declined to help them,” she told journalists outside City Mortuary.

The Kenya Red Cross Society reported 39 people injured, eight critically. A joint statement from the Law Society of Kenya, Kenya Medical Association, and other rights groups said at least 200 people were injured during the protests. 

The International Commission of Jurists called on the Independent Policing Oversight Authority to investigate police violence, condemning the use of live bullets against protesters as disproportionate and unlawful.

Police have not yet commented on the deaths and injuries, but Inspector General Japhet Koome stated that officers would not permit demonstrators to occupy critical government infrastructure. Protesters attempting to access parliament buildings were met with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber or live bullets.

The finance bill proposes new medical insurance levies, taxes on vegetable oil, and an additional fuel levy. It has passed the second reading, with a final vote expected next week. 

The government has amended some contested proposals, including removing a value-added tax on bread and an eco-levy on goods that would have affected the prices of sanitary towels and diapers.

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