Kenyan activists call for fresh protests demanding Ruto's resignation

People protest against Kenya's proposed finance bill 2024/2025, in Nairobi

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan activists on Friday circulated calls for fresh protests, strikes and sit-ins demanding President William Ruto quit, after nationwide demonstrations forced him to U-turn on proposed tax hikes.

Ruto withdrew the contested finance bill on Wednesday and said he would listen to young people, a day after parliament was briefly stormed and set ablaze, and at least 23 people were killed in clashes with police.

At least two more people were killed and seven others sustained gunshot wounds during smaller demonstrations in several major towns and cities on Thursday, as the army was deployed to assist police.

For some protesters, Ruto's eventual climbdown came too late. A pamphlet shared widely online on Friday called for seven days of activism, including countrywide strikes and the blocking of major roads on July 2 and July 4.

"He has proven himself unfit as a Kenyan and failed his constitutional mandate to protect the Kenyan people," read the document, with the popular hashtag #RUTOMUSTGO. "We will not relent until William Ruto unconditionally resigns."

Ruto is contending with the most serious threat to his two-year-old presidency, as the youth-led protest movement has in less than a fortnight escalated from online criticism of the tax hikes into mass rallies demanding his removal.

In place of the tax rises, on Friday Ruto directed the treasury to come up with ways to cut spending by 346 billion Kenyan shillings ($2.69 billion).

He instructed treasury officials to ensure only critical and essential services were funded, using no more than 15% of the budget, until a supplementary budget was approved.

Ruto also met with several Catholic bishops, a group that has strongly condemned police brutality, to find shared "solutions to the issues facing our country."

At the funeral of Ibrahim Kamau, a 19-year-old motorbike taxi rider who died after being shot twice in the neck during Tuesday's protest, Edith Wanjiku said she wanted justice for her son and all the other young people who were killed or injured.

"Ibrahim was a calm young man, and a happy person who was never involved in crime," she said at a cemetery in Kariokor, a Nairobi neighbourhood. "All I am asking is for justice to prevail."

At his graveside, Boniface Mwangi, one of the more prominent activists in an otherwise more diffuse and leaderless movement, said Kamau was murdered by police.

"His life was cut very short," Mwangi told Reuters. "He was unarmed, just protesting for his rights."

($1 = 128.7500 Kenyan shillings)

(Reporting by Hereward Holland, Alexander Winning, Aaron Ross and Nelsom Aruya; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Ros Russell)