Several people have been killed after police fired live rounds at protesters trying to storm Kenya’s legislature, where lawmakers voted to pass a contentious finance bill that would hike taxes.

Thousands of people joined the youth-led demonstration in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday to demand that lawmakers vote against the bill amid soaring tensions over a cost-of-living crisis in the country.

But legislators voted to pass the bill and some then fled the chamber as protesters breached the complex of the Parliament of Kenya. Parts of the Parliament building were set ablaze.

Police eventually managed to drive the protesters from the building amid clouds of tear gas and the sound of gunfire. The lawmakers were evacuated through underground tunnels, local media reported.

At least five people were killed and 31 others were wounded, the Kenya Medical Association and several other NGOs said in a statement on Tuesday.

It said that of the wounded, 13 had been shot with live bullets and four with rubber bullets.

“Despite the assurance by the government that the right to assembly would be protected and facilitated, today’s protests have spiraled into violence,” the groups said.

Kenyan President William Ruto said that the security of Kenyans remained his “utmost priority”.

Ruto called the deadly protests “treasonous”, adding that the debate over the tax increases had been “hijacked by dangerous people”.

Police opened fire after tear gas and water cannon failed to disperse the crowds.

Kenya’s army has been deployed to support the police in controlling the “security emergency” which has resulted in the “destruction and breaching of critical infrastructure”, Defence Minister Aden Duale said in the official gazette.

Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from outside the Parliament building in central Nairobi, said on Tuesday he had seen “the body of a young man who was carrying a Kenyan flag” a short while ago.

“He had a bullet hole right in the centre of his forehead,” Webb said.

“Around us, we can see groups of uniformed police, some carrying weapons for tear gas – of which a lot has been fired – as well as many plainclothes security operators carrying guns,” he said. “We saw some of them earlier shooting into the crowds.”

The Kenya Human Rights Commission shared a video of officers shooting at protesters.

Addressing Ruto, the commission wrote on X: “The world is watching your descent into tyranny! Your regime’s actions is an assault on democracy. All those involved in the shooting – actively or passively – must be held to account.”

Internet monitor Netblocks said on Tuesday that the country’s internet network service is experiencing a major disruption “amidst a deadly crackdown by police”.

Youth-led protests

Tuesday’s demonstration was the third round of protests against the bill. Two people were killed last week during protests – one hit by a gunshot and another by a tear gas canister.

The protests erupted last week, largely led by young activists, as the tax hikes – the second in as many years sought by Ruto’s government – stirred anger over the price rises they would incur on basics such as diapers and sanitary towels.

Reporting from the capital, Nairobi, Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi noted that the protests are not politically led. “These are unprecedented protests, they’re spontaneous,” he said.

“We’ve seen that the majority of the people who are out here are teens or in their early 20s. We’ve been speaking to them and they say what they are fighting for is their future,” he continued. “They say that they are here to fight corruption and they want freedom.”

Kenya police
Police stand guard during a demonstration against Kenya’s finance bill in Nairobi, Kenya, June 25, 2024 [Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Protests and clashes also took place in several other cities and towns across Kenya, with many calling for President William Ruto to quit office as well as voicing their opposition to the tax rises.

Parliament approved the finance bill, moving it through to a third reading by lawmakers. The next step is for the legislation to be sent to the president for signing. He can send it back to Parliament if he has any objections. Last year, when there was a similar tax hike, he had signed it immediately.

The office of the Nairobi governor, a member of the ruling party, was also briefly on fire. The office is located near Parliament. Police water cannons were used to extinguish the fire.

Protesters could be heard shouting: “We’re coming for every politician.”

Reporting from the port city of Kisumu, Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi said protesters were trying to reach State House, the president’s home.

Amid calls by some protesters for Ruto to resign, police units secured the presidential building and blocked the demonstrators.

On Sunday, Ruto had praised protesters for demonstrating peacefully, promising that the government would engage with them on the way forward.

But amendments to the bill, which removed some of the more stringent proposals, like a bread tax, have failed to assuage protesters.

“Everyone is coming out because we’re tired, people are tired and unemployed and they keep pushing these punitive taxes,” 28-year-old protester Hanifa Farsafi told Al Jazeera.

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