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Monday, July 15, 2024

Kenyan police arrest over 270 in crackdown on protesters

Despite the heavy crackdown, activists have called for more demonstrations, with plans for additional rallies on Thursday and Sunday.

Kenyan police have arrested more than 270 individuals they claim were disguising themselves as protesters to engage in criminal activities during recent anti-government rallies. This move comes amidst escalating tensions and violence during demonstrations against the government’s policies.

Arrests Amidst Unrest

According to a statement from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) posted on X, formerly Twitter, security forces across Kenya detained suspects involved in various criminal acts under the pretense of protesting. The statement revealed that 204 suspects were arrested in the capital city of Nairobi, while another 68 were apprehended in different regions across the country.

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The DCI emphasized that investigators have been deployed extensively in the affected areas to identify and pursue those captured on CCTV cameras and mobile phone recordings engaging in violent theft, property destruction, and other criminal behaviors.

Government’s Stance on Protests

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki has strongly condemned the protests, labeling them as an “orgy of violence” and warning that the government would take firm action against any form of “anarchic chaos and cruel plunder.” He stated, “This reign of terror against the people of Kenya and the impunity of dangerous criminal gangs must end at whatever cost.”

Despite these stern warnings, the protests, which began peacefully, have frequently devolved into violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police. Police have used tear gas and force to disperse stone-throwing crowds, particularly in central Nairobi and other major cities.

Roots of the Protests

The demonstrations were initially sparked by opposition to a controversial finance bill proposing new taxes, further straining the finances of Kenyans already grappling with a cost-of-living crisis. While President William Ruto eventually abandoned the measure, the protests have since evolved into a broader movement calling for his resignation, encapsulated by the hashtag “RutoMustGo.”

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) reported that 39 people have died and 361 have been injured during two weeks of rallies, with the most severe violence occurring in Nairobi on June 25. The KNCHR criticized the security forces’ response, describing their use of force as “excessive and disproportionate.”

Voices of the Protesters

Many protesters feel their grievances are being ignored by the government. In Mombasa, Milan Waudo expressed frustration to Reuters, saying, “People are dying in the streets, and the only thing he [Ruto] can talk about is money. We are not money. We are people. We are human beings. He needs to care about his people, because if he can’t care about his people then we don’t need him in that chair.”

Reporting from Nairobi, Al Jazeera’s Zein Brasravi highlighted that the rallies reflect deep-seated anger over the deaths of protesters. “Protesters here say that they feel that their voices are still not heard and the government still doesn’t understand why they’re coming out and protesting,” Brasravi said.

Government Accused of Infiltrating Protests

Some activists have accused the government of deploying infiltrators to incite violence and discredit the protest movement. Prominent Gen-Z protester Hanifa Adan posted on X that “goons have infiltrated” the demonstrations, further complicating the situation on the ground.

Future of the Protests

Despite the heavy crackdown, activists have called for more demonstrations, with plans for additional rallies on Thursday and Sunday. This ongoing unrest presents the most significant challenge to President Ruto’s administration since he took office in September 2022.

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In a television interview, Ruto denied allegations of having “blood on [his] hands” due to the deaths of protesters and reiterated his call for dialogue. However, his appeals have largely been rejected by demonstrators who remain steadfast in their demand for his resignation.