NAIROBI: Kenyan police said Tuesday they had arrested 238 people during violent protests over the cost of living which also saw 31 police officers injured. Protesters had joined demonstrations in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya on Monday in response to a call by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga for a day of action against the government of President William Ruto. Police fired tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators, some of whom were hurling rocks and burning tyres, as well as against Odinga’s motorcade.

It was the worst violence in the East African nation since Ruto took office six months ago after narrowly beating Odinga in an election his rival claims was “stolen”. The inspector general of police, Japhet Koome, said in a statement that 213 people were arrested in Nairobi and 24 officers injured. In the province of Nyanza, an opposition stronghold in western Kenya, there were 25 arrests while seven officers were hurt, he said.

‘Violent crime scenes’

Police had on Sunday said the demonstrations in Nairobi were banned because a request for authorisation had not been made in time. “What the organisers purported to be a peaceful demonstration turned into violent crime scenes with protesters engaging in running battles with, and stone throwing at the anti-riot police officers, barricading roads thus hindering freedom of movement for law-abiding citizens,” Koome said.

“The unwarranted day-long standoff that was witnessed in Nairobi and (the western lakeside city of) Kisumu amounts to nothing short of violence against police and economic sabotage.” Police had also announced on Monday that a university student was killed in the western town of Maseno after officers fired live rounds during “skirmishes” with protesters who were “pelting stones.”

Odinga, 78, had called for the demonstrations over economic woes faced by Kenyans who are battling high prices for basic goods, a plunging currency and a record drought that has left millions hungry. Many people are angry that they are struggling despite Ruto pledging to work for the ordinary “hustler” during his campaign for the August election.

Inflation was running at 9.2 percent in February, while the shilling is trading at record lows of around 130 to the US dollar. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua had on Monday urged organisers to call off the “mayhem and the chaos,” saying the protests had cost Kenya about two billion shillings ($15 million) in lost business.

But Odinga has vowed no let-up in the action, calling for protests and strikes to be held in Kenya every Monday. Odinga, who has lost five bids for the presidency, continues to claim that Ruto’s election win was fraudulent and denounces his government as illegitimate. – AFP