Kenyan police fire teargas at protesters marching against finance bill

A plain clothes police officer attempts to detain an activist, amid teargas, during a march to call on lawmakers to reject the finance bill proposed by the government that would raise taxes across the economy, along Harambee avenue in downtown Nairobi, Kenya June 6, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan police fired tear gas near parliament on Tuesday at hundreds of people protesting a proposed finance bill that would hike taxes on fuel, housing and digital content.

President William Ruto, who won election last August on a platform of helping the poor, is under pressure to raise revenues in East Africa's economic powerhouse in the face of rising debt repayments.

But his proposal to do so has drawn sharp criticism from civil servants and political opponents, who say that the cost of living is already too high.

Police fired tear gas to disperse about 500 protesters who marched to parliament to present a petition against the bill, a Reuters witness said. Eleven protesters were seen being detained by police.

Ruto has defended bill, saying its provisions are needed to ensure financial stability and create jobs for young people by building new houses financed through a housing levy. The legislation is expected to be voted on next week.

The opposition Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) party, which has since March led protests against the government over the high cost of living and alleged fraud in last year's election, has said the bill would take the country back to 1980s, when the economy started to deteriorate.

Last week, the opposition suspended bipartisan talks in parliament aimed at ending their row with the government, and its leader Raila Odinga has threatened to hold more protests.

Labour unions, including one representing health workers, also protested against the bill last week.

(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya and Duncan Miriri; Writing by Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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