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Kenya braces for more protests over controversial tax bill

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(LONDON) — Kenyans are set on Thursday to take to the streets in protest, as nationwide demonstrations over a controversial tax bill continue.

The controversial bill — known as the Finance Bill 2024 — has sparked discontent across the East African nation since first being presented in parliament in May, the new bill proposing an increase in an array of taxes and levies for Kenyans.

Hundreds took to the streets of Kenya’s capital Nairobi on Tuesday, with armed police lobbing tear gas canisters and firing water cannons at demonstrators who had assembled in Nairobi’s Central Business district.

At least 283 protesters were arrested, including four journalists, Amnesty Kenya told ABC News. The human rights organisation said it is “alarmed and outraged” by the “use of excessive force,” “intimidation of civilians” and arbitrary arrests.

“Police were firing teargas at us and we had to run into a nearby café to seek shelter,” Stella Njoki, 22, a student who took part in the protests, told ABC News in a phone interview. “But it was imperative we made our voice heard as this is our future, our Kenya, and it is us who will be paying this price.”

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The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi on Tuesday issued a demonstration alert for U.S. citizens, saying events are “intended to be peaceful” but can “turn violent” at any moment. The embassy called on U.S. citizens to “remain vigilant” and avoid large gatherings.

The Finance Bill was introduced as part of Kenya’s budget for next year, Kenya’s finance minister Njuguna Ndung’u saying the budget is aiming to “revitalize” Kenya’s economy, raise an additional 346.7 billion Kenya shillings in revenue and help alleviate debt.

Kenyans fear the bill — which was proposed to become effective on July 1 — would increase the economic burden for those already struggling with the cost of living.

The Media Council of Kenya in a statement condemned the “arbitrary arrests and attacks on journalists” covering the protests, expressing “dismay” that journalists were harassed despite being well identified in press jackets and badges.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Kenya’s President’s Office announced they have made amendments to the Finance Bill “in account of the views of the people and other stakeholders during public participation sessions.”

Among amendments are the scrapping of a proposed 16 % VAT on bread, taxes on foreign exchange transactions and financial services, as well as a 2.5 % Motor Vehicle tax.

“We are going to end up with a product in Parliament that came from the Executive and has been interrogated by the Legislature. Through public participation, the people of Kenya have had a say,” said President Ruto.

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