NAIROBI (Reuters) -Stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police in Kenyan cities on Wednesday and two were shot dead, officers on the scene said, in a second round of protests in less than a week against a raft of tax hikes.

Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and several other towns, according to Reuters reporters and footage aired on Kenyan television stations.

Some of the most intense clashes took place on the expressway linking Nairobi to its international airport, where protesters lit fires and pulled down the flower boxes that usually line the road to use as barricades.

Police officers patrolling the expressway, who did not give their names, told Reuters they had shot dead two protesters as they sought to repel an advancing crowd. A police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President William Ruto was elected last August on a platform of helping Kenya’s working poor, but his critics say the tax rises he signed last month will deepen the plight of Kenyans already struggling to afford basic commodities like maize flour.

“Young guys, they cry that there was a promise, Mr. President. You promised them that you are going to help them, but you didn’t,” Bernard Ochieng, a protester in Nairobi’s informal Kibera settlements, told Reuters.

The government says the tax hikes, which include a doubling of the fuel tax and the introduction of a levy to fund affordable housing, are needed to deal with growing debt repayments and to fund job-creation initiatives.

Late last month, Kenya’s High Court ordered the suspension of implementation of the new taxes pending a legal challenge, but the government has raised petrol prices anyway.

At least six people were killed last Friday during protests called for by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

In remarks on Wednesday, Odinga lambasted the police response and cancelled a rally in Nairobi planned for the afternoon, alleging a plot to attack his supporters.

“In order to protect our people and avert more injury and loss of lives, we have taken the strategic decision not to proceed with the rally,” Odinga said in a media briefing.

Odinga, who finished runner-up in the last five presidential elections, led a series of protests earlier this year against the high cost of living and alleged election irregularities, demonstrations that repeatedly degenerated into violence.

($1 = 141.2000 Kenyan shillings)

(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya, Jefferson Kahinju and Humphrey MalaloWriting by Aaron RossEditing by Alex Richardson, Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

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