Veteran Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday denounced "unprecedented police violence" during the anti-government and anti-expense protests that have been taking place in the East African country in recent months.
Since March, the opposition coalition Azimio has organized nine days of action against the policies of President William Ruto, sometimes resulting in looting and clashes with the police. According to Azimio, at least 50 people have been killed since March, some 20 according to official figures.
"We are witnessing unprecedented police violence," said Raila Odinga at a press conference for foreign media in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
"Police and gangs have shot and killed or wounded dozens of people at point-blank range", he claimed, maintaining that "all the victims were unarmed".
According to him, the violence was particularly aimed at the Luos, the ethnic group from which he hails.
Accusing the opposition of inciting violence, President Ruto affirmed on Wednesday his support for the police, who "must ensure that they are firm against criminals, gangs, anarchists and all those who want to sow chaos".
Human rights organizations denounced the repression carried out by the police, who sometimes fired live ammunition. A coalition of 29 NGOs, including Amnesty International, claimed on Friday to have documented 27 "extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions" during the five days of action organized in July.
Instead of "peaceful demonstrations", Azimio called for "marches and vigils of solidarity for victims of police violence". "We call on Kenyans to come out, light candles and lay flowers" in their memory, it announced in a statement on Monday.
Elected in August 2022, William Ruto is facing growing opposition. In particular, he is accused of adding to the difficulties of Kenyans, already struggling with ongoing inflation (+8% year-on-year in June), with a law enacted in early July introducing new taxes.
"These protests were about the cost of living and excessive taxes, and they will continue", said the opposition leader, despite the low turnout for the latest days of mobilization on Thursday and Friday.
Last week, the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat and leading Kenyan media called on Ruto and Odinga to engage in dialogue. "We have always said that we are open to dialogue", assured Mr. Odinga.
The opposition had cancelled demonstrations scheduled for April and May, after William Ruto had agreed to hold talks. The talks collapsed, leading to the resumption of actions since the beginning of July.