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Kenya’s Ruto agrees ‘for conversation’ with protesters over tax hikes | Protests News

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The weeklong protests have caught Ruto’s government off-guard, as discontent mounts over his economic policies.

Kenya’s President William Ruto has said he was ready for “a conversation” with thousands of “peaceful” young protesters who held nationwide demonstrations this week to oppose proposed tax increases.

The protesters, who began their demonstrations on Tuesday, say the administration of President William Ruto has gone back on its pledge to reduce taxes and lower the cost of living.

Organised on social media and led largely by young Kenyans who livestreamed the demonstrations, the protests caught Ruto’s government off-guard, as discontent mounts over his economic policies.

“I am very proud of our young people… they have stepped forward peaceful[ly] and I want to tell them we are going to engage them,” Ruto said in his first public comments on the protests on Sunday.

“We are going to have a conversation so that together we can build a greater nation,” he added during a church service in the Rift Valley town of Nyahururu.

In response, however, one protest leader said Ruto had to “respond publically”.

“If he truly wants dialogue, he must respond publically to our demand letter,” said Hanifa Adan. Protesters have called for a national strike on June 25.

The weeklong demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, but five groups, including Amnesty International, noted late on Thursday in a joint statement that at least 105 protesters had been arrested in a violent crackdown by riot police that included the use of tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

A Kenya Human Rights Commission official told the AFP news agency on Saturday that 21-year-old Evans Kiratu was “hit by a tear gas canister” during the protests and died in hospital.

On Friday, a police watchdog said it was investigating allegations that a 29-year-old man was shot by officers in Nairobi after the demonstrations.

Impact of tax hikes

Following smaller-scale demonstrations in Nairobi on Tuesday, the cash-strapped government agreed to roll back several tax hikes laid out in a new bill.

But, after the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership as well as financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a 200-billion-shilling ($1.5bn) shortfall.

The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.

Kenya has a vast debt mountain, and servicing costs have ballooned due to a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, leaving Ruto with few options.

The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with many already struggling as the cost of living surges and well-paid jobs remain out of reach for young people.

Ruto added on Sunday that the annual budget included measures to tackle youth unemployment and improve access to higher education.

“What I want to assure [the protesters]… is that we are concerned about their issues,” he said.

“We are going to make sure that every child has access to higher education.”

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