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Here's what led Kenyans to burn part of parliament and call for the president's resignation

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Here's what led Kenyans to burn part of parliament and call for the president's resignation
News

News

Here's what led Kenyans to burn part of parliament and call for the president's resignation

2024-06-27 13:56 Last Updated At:14:00

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Kenya's president came to power by appealing to the common people, describing himself as a “hustler” and vowing relief from economic pain. But when he was forced to give up on a controversial tax hike that led to deadly chaos in the capital, Nairobi, it was a clear sign that support for him has turned.

Protesters who opposed a law that would have raised taxes stormed parliament on Tuesday, burning part of the building as lawmakers fled. Bodies lay in the streets, and medical workers and watchdogs said police had opened fire. The military was deployed.

President William Ruto pushed the law through parliament despite opposition from the youth-led protest movement, and called protesters “treasonous" after they stormed parliament. But on Wednesday, with troops in the capital's streets and the smell of tear gas lingering in the air, he conceded that the plan had caused “widespread dissatisfaction” and said he would not sign the bill.

Here’s a look at the unrest in East Africa’s most stable democracy and the most serious assault on Kenya's government in decades.

The finance bill was meant to raise or introduce taxes or fees on a range of daily items and services including internet data, fuel, bank transfers and diapers. Some measures were stripped as anger grew. The proposals was part of the Kenyan government’s efforts to raise an extra $2.7 billion in domestic revenue.

The government said the changes were necessary to pay interest on national debt, reduce the budget deficit and keep the government running. Protesters saw them as punitive, since the high cost of living already makes it hard to get by.

A 2023 finance bill signed into law by Ruto was also unpopular, featuring a tax on salaries for housing, but the anger was nothing like this.

Young Kenyans have been organizing on social media, organizing peaceful street demonstrations meant to force authorities to drop this finance bill altogether. The protests started on June 18 after the bill was made public for the first time.

The protests began in Nairobi but have spread to other parts of Kenya, including the Indian Ocean city of Mombasa and even in Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley region that’s been a bastion of support for the president.

Kenya’s political opposition stormed out of Tuesday session’s in which the bill was passed.

Kenya has seen protests in the past, but activists and others warned the stakes were now more dangerous.

“We are dealing with a new phenomenon and a group of people that is not predictable,” said Herman Manyora, an analyst and professor at the University of Nairobi. “We don’t know whether these people will fear the army.”

Ruto deployed police and soldiers to quell the protests, infuriating demonstrators and escalating the situation. At least 22 people were killed on Tuesday, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission said, and police were accused of some shooting deaths. Chairperson Roseline Odede said 50 people were arrested.

Ruto acknowledged there were deaths, without elaborating, called it an “unfortunate situation” and offered condolences. He also said about 200 people were wounded in the chaos.

Ruto, elected in 2022, has consistently urged all Kenyans to pay their fair share of taxes. Some Kenyans now mock him as “Zakayo,” after the biblical tax collector Zacchaeus. Many see his aggressive stance as a form of dictatorship that’s out of sync with the realities of ordinary people.

In 2023, after the courts blocked some of his tax proposals, the president threatened to disregard court orders. That drew criticism from the Law Society of Kenya, whose leader accused Ruto of seeing himself as above the law.

Pro-democracy activists have warned that Ruto's attacks on the judiciary indicate an authoritarian streak. Some see similarities between Ruto and his mentor Daniel arap Moi, the former president who led Kenya during a long period of one-party rule.

Ruto in his presidential campaign called himself the anti-establishment candidate and vowed to implement policies to put more money in Kenyans' pockets. But the so-called “hustlers” who supported him were dismayed when his government removed crucial fuel and maize flour subsidies. Many Kenyans saw it as a betrayal.

Ruto, now fabulously wealthy, frequently urges Kenyans to tighten their belts. But his state visit to the United States in May created controversy when he chartered a luxury private jet instead of using the presidential jet or Kenya's national carrier. Ruto later said the chartered jet had been paid for by friends he didn’t name.

A protester wearing a graduation gown stands as Kenya police spray water canon during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

A protester wearing a graduation gown stands as Kenya police spray water canon during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

Protesters hide behind a banner as police fire teargas at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

Protesters hide behind a banner as police fire teargas at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

WASHINGTON (AP) — An iconoclastic filmmaking legend and one of the world's most enduring musical acts headline this year's crop of Kennedy Center Honors recipients.

Director Francis Ford Coppola and the Grateful Dead will be honored for lifetime achievement in the arts, along with jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, blues legend Bonnie Raitt and the legendary Harlem theater The Apollo, which has launched generations of Black artists.

This 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The ceremony will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 23.

Starting out as a folk-infused quintet in psychedelic-era 1960s San Francisco, the Grateful Dead steadily morphed into a cultural phenomenon and one of the most successful touring acts of all time.

Fueled by the carnival atmosphere of its traveling Deadhead fanbase and an ethos that encouraged tape-trading and emphasized live performance over studio output, the Dead have spanned multiple generations and remain wildly popular. Lead guitarist and founding member Jerry Garcia died in 1995, but the band continues almost nonstop touring in multiple incarnations.

“There’s a lot of ingredients that go into it,” drummer Mickey Hart said, when asked about the music’s longevity. “The fans say that the shows feel like home. It gives them that feeling of connectiveness and community and joy and love for life and the music.”

Currently calling themselves Dead and Company with guitarist John Mayer taking Garcia’s place, the band is in the midst of a several-month residency at The Sphere in Las Vegas.

Coppola, 85, has established himself as a trailblazing filmmaker, winning five Academy Awards and earning a reputation as a driven artist willing to risk his reputation and finances for his vision. Even after the massive successes of “The Godfather” and a sequel, Coppola drove himself into near bankruptcy while filming “Apocalypse Now,” which turned out to be another classic.

At times, he wondered whether he had ruffled too many powerful feathers along the way to ever receive Kennedy Center Honors induction.

“I’ve been eligible for the past 20 years, so the fact that I never received it made me feel that maybe I never would,” said Coppola, who took part in fellow director Martin Scorsese's induction in 2007. “I just assumed I wasn’t going to win it, so to hear that I was chosen was a surprise and a delight.”

Coppola, who has produced wine from his northern California vineyard for more than 40 years, also made sure to shout out another northern California recipient this year.

“And it's a big treat to be there this year with the Grateful Dead, my San Francisco colleagues," he said. “I'm very delighted and pleased.”

Sandoval, 74, rose to prominence as a musician in his native Cuba, playing piano and percussion but specializing in the trumpet. His work brought him into contact with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, who championed his music and personally helped him defect from Cuba while on tour in Europe in 1990. Shortly after his defection, Sandoval performed at his mentor Gillespie's own Kennedy Center Honors induction.

“Modestly apart, I do think I deserve it. I worked so hard for so many years,” Sandoval told The Associated Press. “It’s a huge honor, and I feel completely overwhelmed. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I’m just a little farmer from Cuba. God has been so good to me.”

Raitt's memories of the Kennedy Center Honors go back to the 1970s, when she accompanied her father, Broadway performer John Raitt, who was taking part in a tribute to composer Richard Rogers.

“I got to visit the White House and hang out with the Carters,” said Raitt, 74. “I got my first taste of what this weekend really means.”

As an adult performer, Raitt experienced the other side of the Kennedy Center Honors equation: performing as part of tributes to Mavis Staples in 2016 and Buddy Guy in 2012. These performances are frequently kept secret from the honorees themselves, and Raitt said she looks forward to seeing who the planners come up with for her tribute.

“I really, really want to be surprised, and I don't want to know,” she said.

Over a 50-year career, Raitt has received a plethora of music awards, including 13 Grammys and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine named her to its lists of the 100 greatest guitarists and the 100 greatest singers of all time. But Raitt said the Kennedy Center Honors status holds a special place because it extends to all aspects of the performing arts, encompassing all forms of music, dance and performance.

“The thing that puts (Kennedy Center Honors) at the pinnacle is that it’s culture-wide,” she said. “It’s hard for me to even fathom what this means.”

It's extremely rare for the Kennedy Center Honors to select a venue, rather than a performer. But The Apollo's nine-decade run as an incubator for generations of Black talent has qualified it as an exception.

“It's not a traditional honoree, for sure,” said Michelle Ebanks, the theater's president and CEO, who cited the recent induction of the show “Sesame Street” as a similar out-of-the-box selection. "We're absolutely delighted by the honor."

The Harlem landmark has served as a proving ground for Black performers dating back to Billie Holiday, James Brown and Stevie Wonder and extending into modern performers like Lauryn Hill. This year, the theater has moved events to a new venue down the street, dubbed The Apollo Stages at the Victoria Theater, while the original venue undergoes renovation and expansion.

“It's more than a theater. It's a cultural touchstone ... that's rooted in the Harlem community,” Ebanks said. "It really is a recognition of a collective passion. ... Over the decades, The Apollo has never stood still.”

FILE - The marquee of the Apollo Theater honors, Aug. 6, 2019 in New York. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

FILE - The marquee of the Apollo Theater honors, Aug. 6, 2019 in New York. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

FILE - From left to right, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, daughter of the late Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia, and Bill Kreutzmann pose at the premiere of "Long Strange Trip," a documentary about the Grateful Dead rock group, during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 23, 2017, in Park City, Utah. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - From left to right, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, daughter of the late Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia, and Bill Kreutzmann pose at the premiere of "Long Strange Trip," a documentary about the Grateful Dead rock group, during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 23, 2017, in Park City, Utah. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Cuban jazz player Arturo Sandoval plays during a concert in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 27, 2017. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Cuban jazz player Arturo Sandoval plays during a concert in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 27, 2017. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Bonnie Raitt arrives at the Billboard Women in Music Awards, March 2, 2022, at the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Bonnie Raitt arrives at the Billboard Women in Music Awards, March 2, 2022, at the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Francis Ford Coppola poses for photographers at the photo call for the film 'Megalopolis' at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 17, 2024. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Francis Ford Coppola poses for photographers at the photo call for the film 'Megalopolis' at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 17, 2024. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - This undated file photo shows members of the Grateful Dead band, from left to right, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, Brent Mydland, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bob Weir. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - This undated file photo shows members of the Grateful Dead band, from left to right, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, Brent Mydland, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bob Weir. The 47th Kennedy Center class will be honored with an evening of tributes, testimonials and performances on Dec. 8 at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (AP Photo/File)

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