3 dead in Kenya after clash with police over masks

Three people were reportedly killed in a small town in Kenya amid disputes between police and residents over wearing masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease, according to a report by The Associated Press.

The report noted that there are conflicting stories about the deaths between police and other parties over the incident in Lessos, a town in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

A witness, Kenneth Kaunda, told the AP that a police officer fired into a crowd of people who were protesting over the police’s attempt to arrest a motorcycle taxi rider who was not wearing a face covering. 

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“He shot at least five times into the crowd,” Kaunda, a stone mason, told the AP.

Kenya requires face coverings or masks in public, and those found to be violating the ordinance can be hit with a $200 fine, a huge amount of money in a country with a per capita GDP of less than $2,000.

Kaunda also said people were frustrated that police had been shaking down people for money in enforcing the mask ban.

Anger over the cobbler’s death provoked residents to set the local police chief’s house on fire, and stones were thrown at the police station. Two others were shot and killed during the protest, the AP reported.

Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino said in a statement the cause of the violence occurred during the taxi rider’s arrest when someone from the nearby angered crowd attempted to “snatch” a gun from the officer, which led to the shooting.

Authorities said the officer was arresting the driver for attempting to carry two passengers on the vehicle. The government has restricted motorcycle taxis to one rider at a time to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The officer who shot the cobbler was suspended from work and arrested, police Inspector-General Hillary Mutyambai told the AP.

Kenya’s police have an infamous reputation among human rights groups for corruption and violence, The Associated Press noted. Human rights activists have been protesting alleged killings by Kenyan police for several weeks following claims that authorities are using the pandemic measures to justify increased use of force or, in some cases, extort brides.

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