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Kenya’s president withdraws tax plan after deadly protests

Kenya’s President William Ruto has announced that he will withdraw a finance bill containing controversial tax increases following deadly protests on Tuesday in which Parliament was set on fire.

In an address to the nation, he said it was clear that Kenyans wanted “nothing” to do with the law.

“I give up,” he said, adding that he would not sign the bill.

According to the state-funded Kenya Human Rights Commission (KNHRC), at least 22 people were killed in the protests on Tuesday.

Mr Ruto said he would now engage in dialogue with the young people who have been at the forefront of the biggest protests to rock the country since his election in 2022.

On Thursday morning, police were deployed throughout the capital and around State House, and many Kenyans announced on social media that they would march to the president’s official residence.

However, some prominent figures from the protests warned against this, as there was a risk of further violence.

The original purpose of the demonstrations was to force the president not to sign the law.

But some protesters have now started calling for his resignation, using the slogan “Ruto must go”.

Despite nationwide demonstrations, the bill was passed by parliament on Tuesday.

Protesters entered Parliament, vandalised the interior and set fire to parts of the complex. The ceremonial mace symbolising the authority of the legislature was stolen.

Mr Ruto initially reacted defiantly.

He ordered the deployment of the military and said that “violence and anarchy” would not be tolerated.

But on Wednesday, after an extraordinary demonstration of popular strength, he backed down.

“Ruto bows to pressure from Generation Z, withdraws finance bill,” read the headline on Kenya’s Citizen TV.

In his second address to the nation in less than 24 hours, Mr Ruto made it very clear why he believed the tax increases were necessary.

The bill is part of efforts to reduce the country’s enormous debt burden of more than $80 billion (£63 billion), which costs the country more than half of its annual tax revenue to service.

Mr Ruto added that his government had made progress and was on track to “assert its sovereignty” by repaying its debts.

He said the provisions had helped farmers, students and teachers, but acknowledged that the public did not support him.

“I also lead people,” he said, “and the people have spoken.”

But his retraction did not change people’s plans to resume protests on Thursday.

Mr Ruto became president after narrowly defeating his main rival, Raila Odinga, in the 2022 elections.

He received 50.5% of the vote, while Mr Odinga received 48.8%.

Mr Ruto won after portraying himself as a “crook” who challenged the attempt by two dynasties – the Odingas and the Kenyattas – to hold on to power.

He promised a bottom-up economic approach to tackle high youth unemployment and improve the lives of the less well-off.

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