NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – A witness says three people died in a small town in the Rift Valley in Kenya during a confrontation between police and residents about wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the corona virus.
Police confirmed the deaths, but made another statement.
Human rights activists protested for weeks against alleged murders by Kenyan police officers, enforcing virus restrictions. They also accuse officers of using the measures to extort bribes.
Kenneth Kaunda told The Associated Press that violent protests erupted in Lessos on Thursday after residents tried to prevent police officers from bringing a motorcycle taxi driver to the station for not wearing a mask. Kenya has mandated the wearing of face masks in public, and failure to comply carries a $ 200 fine, a hefty fee for many.
Kaunda says the residents were tired of the police shaking people off because they were not wearing masks. He claimed that a police officer who had arrested the driver opened fire to the angry crowd and killed a local shoemaker.
“He fired into the crowd at least five times,” said Kaunda, a stone mason.
Angered by the shoemaker’s death, residents set the local police chief’s house on fire and attacked a police station with stones. Two other people were shot in the chaos, Kaunda said.
Police said something else caused the incident.
Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino said in a statement that other motorcyclists were trying to avoid arresting their colleague for carrying two passengers. The government has limited motorcycle taxis to carrying one passenger to prevent the spread of the virus.
Owino accused the motorcycle taxi drivers of attempting to “snatch” a gun from the arresting officer, leading to the shooting.
Police Inspector General Hillary Mutyambai told the AP that the police officer who shot the shoemaker was suspended and arrested.
The Kenyan police have been on the list of the most corrupt institutions in the country for two decades. It is also the deadliest in Kenya, killing far more people than criminals, according to human rights organizations.
In the past three months, 15 people, including a 13-year-old boy, have been murdered by the police while enforcing the new restrictions, a watchdog group said. Human rights activists now estimate the figure at 21.
Activists say there has been no widespread public support for change in Kenya, one of Africa’s largest economies, even though protests have erupted in many parts of the world over police abuse.
But human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi said that despite the loss of life, it is encouraging to see that the public is no longer subdued.
“It is encouraging that this time, after the police killed the first man, people did not sit back and protest the police,” he tweeted. “It should be noted that another time will not be the usual layoff. “
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