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Several people shot as security forces clash with demonstrators in Kenya

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Several people were shot in Kenya, some possibly fatally, as security forces clashed with demonstrators across the country protesting high costs of living and tax hikes, on Wednesday.

Eye witnesses said demonstrators hurled rocks at police and burned tyres in the streets, while the security forces fired volleys of tear gas. It was the third round of anti-government demonstrations the opposition called this month.

Police arrested at least 300 people countrywide, including nine senior opposition figures, according to the interior ministry and an opposition lawyer. Schools were closed in the capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and Kisumu, the country’s third-largest city.

Nairobi’s city centre was largely deserted with many businesses shut, while police erected checkpoints on roads leading to State House, President William Ruto’s official residence.

Ruto was elected last August pledging to champion the interests of the poor but prices of basic commodities have risen under his administration and last month his government passed tax hikes. Government says the levies on fuel and housing are needed to help deal with growing debt repayments and to fund job-creation initiatives.

In Wednesday’s unrest, seven people were admitted at Nakuru County Referral Hospital after sustaining gunshot wounds. Citizen TV reported that two people were shot dead in Nakuru, in the Rift Valley, without saying by whom.

The ministry said those arrested will be charged with various crimes including looting, malicious damage and arson.

In Migori town in western Kenya, two people sought treatment for gunshot wounds sustained during protests. One person was shot dead and another wounded in the southern town of Makueni. Citizen TV also reported that two people were shot and wounded in Nairobi, while the Standard newspaper also reported two people shot in the capital.

“This government is violating the constitution by being brutal on us while we are trying to uphold the same constitution through peaceful protests,” a protester in Mombasa who gave only his first name, Eric, told Reuters as he poured water over his face to wash away tear gas.

Police officials did not respond to requests for comment. Two water-cannon trucks and dozens of riot police were stationed at the entrance to Kibera, a shantytown in southwestern Nairobi. Protesters burned tires and hurled rocks at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas. A TV station controlled by the Azimio La Umoja opposition party said that its leader Raila Odinga’s spokesperson had been arrested.

Opposition leaders have also called for demonstrations on Thursday and Friday.

CHURCH CALLS FOR PEACE

At least 15 people were killed and hundreds arrested in the two rounds of protests earlier this month, when police fired teargas and in some cases live rounds at the crowds. A private sector lobby group says that protests this year have cost the economy more than $20 million per day and civic leaders have warned about sporadic incidents of apparent ethnic-based violence.

Kenyan politics are often defined by tribal alliances and fighting along ethnic lines after disputed elections in 2007 and 2017 killed hundreds of people. However, political analysts say the latest protests are unlikely to spiral into widespread ethnic violence as Ruto’s support base cuts across ethnic groups.

Churches and civil rights groups have called for Ruto and Odinga to resolve their differences through dialogue and call off the protests. Archbishop Anthony Muheria, a member of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops said the tax hikes should be repealed.

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