Court allows military deployment to restore order

Kenya’s high court has approved the use of military force to restore order after days of anti-tax protests that at one point overwhelmed police.

More than 20 people are reported to have died in the nationwide protests, largely led by young people opposed to government plans to raise taxes.

Armored military vehicles patrolled the streets of the capital, Nairobi, on Thursday as police fired tear gas to disperse protesters, who had threatened to storm the presidential palace.

A judge said the military deployment was essential to protect government facilities, but gave authorities two days to clarify how long the deployment would last, along with its rules of engagement.

“Deploying the military widely without defining its scope and duration of operation is a dangerous trend that can lead to the militarization of the country,” Judge Lawrence Mugambi ruled.

The Kenya Law Society, which had asked the court to order the army to return to barracks, said it “respects but disagrees” with the ruling.

President William Ruto bowed to pressure on Wednesday and said he would withdraw the finance bill containing the unpopular tax proposals, a day after parliament was briefly stormed and set on fire by angry protesters.

Isaac Mwaura, the government spokesman, he told the BBC’s Newsday program that the withdrawal of the bill was a “big blow to the government as it left a “big hole” in the budget.

“It’s really a big setback,” Mwaura said, blaming “misinformed” Kenyans for opposing it.

“There was a very well choreographed campaign, both locally and internationally, to misinform and disinform people so that they could create a revolt,” he added.

The finance bill was aimed at raising taxes to help ease the country’s debt burden, as demanded by lenders including the International Monetary Fund.

Many protesters doubt the president will implement the austerity measures he announced Wednesday.

They are also angered by reports of arbitrary kidnappings of protesters and the killing of at least 23 people, according to a doctors’ association. Some are now calling for the president to resign.

State agents have been accused of kidnapping hundreds of people linked to the protests.

Many of those who have been released have no physical injuries, but have been left so traumatized that they do not want to talk about the experience, says Faith Odhiambo, president of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).

“Most of them were thrown onto the side of the road and were very shaken. One of them went to the village, where he said he felt safer around his mother,” Odhiambo told a local radio station.

Kenya’s state-funded National Human Rights Commission said it had helped secure the release of more than 300 people who had been “unlawfully detained.”

Vice President Rigathi Gachagua lamented that the criminal justice system has been used to manage the country’s politics.

Chief Justice Martha Koome also condemned the abductions, saying they amounted to a direct attack on the rule of law.

But Mwaura denied this, saying “criminal elements who wanted a coup” had tried to take advantage of the peaceful protests.

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