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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Why did people in Kenya storm their own parliament?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The protesters created a moment that the president called an attack on democracy. While objecting to a tax increase, they stormed the home of the legislature, overcame security, broke into the building, and left many dead and injured. The details of that tax hike, where the money is to come from, and where it goes have a lot to do with it.

MARTÍNEZ: Emmanuel Igunza is a journalist in Nairobi, where he saw some of the violence firsthand, and just a warning that some of his reporting might be very graphic. Emmanuel, what did you see yesterday, and what's the situation now?

EMMANUEL IGUNZA, BYLINE: Well, good morning. The protests last week had called for seven days of rage, and it turned out to be just that outside Parliament. Both houses, the National Assembly and the Senate, were extensively damaged during this protest. The symbols of power, the maces, were taken by the protesters who stormed in, forcing MPs to hide and then they were whisked away via an underground tunnel hidden in ambulances. I saw parts of the complex on fire, a police truck immobilized and set a blaze, and on the road leading to Parliament, you could see pools of blood and several bodies lying on the road, which were quickly wrapped up by the protesters in the Kenyan flag and taken by ambulances. There were tear gas canisters. Bullet shells was scattered on the road.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTÍNEZ: So what sparked the protest to begin with?

IGUNZA: Well, the protesters had always insisted they wanted to occupy Parliament, and that was one of the hashtags they've been using online to mobilize. These are young people, college students, calling themselves the Gen Z. This protest started out as an opposition to the proposed Finance Bill 2024, which seeks to raise about 2.9 billion dollar in taxes that the government says it needs to pay off huge foreign debt. But the protesters are saying that the taxes will make life much harder as it is. It targets such things as sanitary pads, diapers, and there's an increase in fuel taxes, which will make things like transport and production much more expensive.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, then how did the protest get out of control?

IGUNZA: President Ruto has blamed criminals for infiltrating the protests. Let's listen to him.

PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO: The security infrastructure established to protect our republic and its sovereignty will be deployed to secure the country and restore normalcy.

IGUNZA: Well, but these matches across the country were by and large, very peaceful. We saw the protesters only with placards, antigovernment placards, their phones, and cameras and water bottles, and throughout they were chanting that they want peace. But then when they overwhelmed police and broke the lines, police opened fire. I saw at least three bodies of people with headshot wounds lying outside Parliament.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you reported on the program yesterday that all of this is happening at the same exact time that the first UN-backed contingent of Kenyan police officers arrived in Haiti to try and restore law and order.

IGUNZA: Well, it did. The contingent that's now in Haiti comes from the General Service Unit, which is the same paramilitary group that was overwhelmed by protesters in Kenya. We've seen video footage of them being chased away by crowds. And this has forced the president to call in the military to maintain law and order and guard Parliament, State House, and other government buildings. So it's a big headache for President Ruto, who has styled himself internationally as a strong ally of the West, but domestically, he faces serious questions on his handling of the protest. There is this perception that he's doing the dirty work for the U.S. in Haiti while his own backyard is on fire.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Emmanuel Igunza, a journalist in Nairobi. Thank you very much.

IGUNZA: Thank you very much.

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MARTÍNEZ: The trial of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges began today in Russia's mountain capitol.

INSKEEP: That's - I looked it up for you. I knew this was going to be an issue - Yekaterinburg, I believe.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. I took a U-turn on that pronunciation.

INSKEEP: That's okay. It's okay. So I think it's called Yekaterinburg, the Ural Mountain capitol in Russia, the same city where the American reporter was detained by Russian security agents 15 months ago.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, now joining us to talk about this case is NPR's Charles Maynes on the line now from Moscow. Charles - obviously, a very tough situation that we're dealing with here. What do we know about the circumstances of the trial itself?

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Yeah, you know, because of the nature of these espionage charges, this is a closed trial with no reporters, no family, not even U.S. Embassy representativesc allowed into the proceedings that could see Gershkovich face 20 years in prison if he's convicted. Gershkovich's lawyers also face a gag order, so we won't hear from them. The trial got underway late this morning today in Yekaterinburg, as we say. There was a brief moment where the press was allowed into the court room. In video published by state media, you can see Gershkovich looking healthy, but now with his head shaved in a padlocked glass cage. He smiles briefly, waves to the camera, before journalists are escorted from the room.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, OK, so the Russian government accuses Gershkovich of espionage. We know that. But what do we know about the specific charges?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, after keeping these espionage allegations under wraps for 15 long months of pretrial detention, Russian prosecutors recently revealed at least some details of what they'll argue in court. They'll say Gershkovich was collecting secret information about a Russian tank factory on the orders of the CIA, specifically a tank factory in Nizhny Tagil. This is a town about 140 miles or so to the north of Yekaterinburg. Now, you've heard it before. You'll hear it again now. Gershkovich and the Journal vehemently reject the espionage charges. They always have. They say he was working with full accreditation and vetting from the Russian foreign ministry at the time of his arrest. In other words, he, like anyone working in Russia as a journalist, including me, went through background checks.

You know, as to his presence in the Urals, the journal says he was on a reporting assignment, and I can tell you this town, Nizhny Tagil, made its name over a decade ago as a conservative bastion for support for President Vladimir Putin. So it's not a bad choice for a journalist, you know, looking to learn more about the attitudes of working-class fans of the Russian leader amid the war in Ukraine.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the U.S. government has designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained. The White House has also said that it's made several offers to the Kremlin aimed at securing his release. Obviously, no success so far. What do we know about these negotiations?

MAYNES: Well, the Journal's editor-in-chief Emma Tucker published a letter yesterday that said even calling this a trial is a misnomer. She said the Journal expected a bogus accusation to lead to a bogus conviction. Keep in mind that more than 99% of all cases do end in convictions in Russia. So while I'm sure they would all welcome a not-guilty verdict, that doesn't seem to be where this is going. The U.S. hostage's diplomat, Roger Carston, has said that efforts to negotiate the release of Gershkovich and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, continue. Earlier this month, President Putin acknowledged much the same. But recently, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Moscow had presented Washington with a proposal, adding that if the U.S. didn't like the deal on the table, that was their problem. So that's where we are.

MARTÍNEZ: Alright, NPR's Charles Maines in Moscow. Thank you, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: The first presidential debate is tomorrow. But looking ahead in the political calendar, the Republican National Convention is less than three weeks away.

INSKEEP: Which doesn't give former President Donald Trump very much time to pick a running mate. He is treating this search, a little like his old days hosting "The Apprentice," and VP nominee hopefuls are rushing to make their final sales pitches.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Jeongyoon Han has been following the competition to be Trump's VP. So why might it feel like Trump is kind of going back to his reality show days in the way he's picking this VP?

JEONGYOON HAN, BYLINE: Hi. Well, it's his style to generate attention around him, to make headlines, to control the narrative. After all, it was clear early on that Trump would win the nomination. So the VP candidate is the only real race to watch for here. And Trump figures he'd make that race about him. I spoke with Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. He says Trump is intentionally stoking intrigue around the search.

RON BONJEAN: Trump does it in a manner which creates a fervor around it, and he's a master of manipulating the media and the public. But we can't help but follow his process because it's so important to our country's future should he be elected president.

HAN: And one last point on this - Trump is doing all this to show that he can. He wants to show that people are eager to work for him and that he's the star of the show.

MARTÍNEZ: Alright, so who's rising to the top of the list of VP candidates?

HAN: Yeah. So there are five names that I'm really watching here. There's Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who's advised Trump over the years on foreign policy. Another person in the mix is Elise Stefanik, the Congresswoman from New York. She leads the House Republican Conference. And then there's Tim Scott from South Carolina. He's the only Black Republican in the Senate. North Dakota Governor Doug Bergam has also gotten some buzz. He's a businessman before going into politics, which Trump values. And the last name I'll mentioned is Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, who has been a reliable ally of Trump in the last few years.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so why these candidates in particular?

HAN: Well, they're trying to show Trump that they have what he wants in a candidate, and what Trump wants is someone who's loyal, someone who's willing to defend him. For example, Vance has made numerous TV appearances in support of Trump in recent weeks. Remember, Trump likes that kind of showman style, and performing is something that Stefanik also has experienced doing on the hill, particularly in defending Trump and the Republican Party. And we know Trump likes people like him. Before going into politics, both Vance and Bergum were successful in business, so that's a plus for them. But as a recent NPR-PBS News-Marist poll shows, President Biden and Trump are in a dead heat. So Trump is really trying to appeal to as many voters as possible now. With Scott, there's a chance to speak directly to Black voters. With Rubio, a fluent Spanish speaker, he has an opportunity with Latino voters. And Rubio has done well with moderates and independents in Florida. That's a group Trump wants to win over nationwide.

MARTÍNEZ: Is it fair to say that being Trump's VP is less about the now and more about the later?

HAN: Well, for these candidates, that's definitely the case. They're all relatively young and have long careers ahead of them. So they're already looking into 2028, which for them isn't that far off. And Trump has shown that the Republican Party is his party right now. So these candidates are convinced that whoever is Trump's VP this year, if he becomes elected, will then take up the mantle afterwards.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Jeongyoon Han. Thank you very much.

HAN: Thanks, A.

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MARTÍNEZ: OK. And before you go, we have news of yesterday's primary elections. They include a bitter Democratic Party fight between a prominent progressive in Congress and it centrist challengers.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: That's a little sound from George Latimer's victory rally in New York after winning the Democratic nomination in the 16th Congressional District. He is the Westchester County executive - that's a suburb of New York City - and he beat out Congressman Jaamal Bowman, who was a member of the group of Democrats known in Congress as the Squad. Bowman is one of the first incumbents to lose a reelection bid this year, and this race highlighted divisions over the war in Gaza.

MARTÍNEZ: It was also the most expensive House of Representatives primary in history. The tracking firm Ad Impact estimates the political advertising came out to nearly 25 million bucks.

INSKEEP: Wow.

MARTÍNEZ: One of the outside groups pouring money into this race was the pro-Israel lobbying organization APAC.

INSKEEP: Now, Latimer was not the only candidate to prevail over an opponent he branded as too extreme. It happened to the other party too in the state of Utah. Republican Governor Spencer Cox fended off a challenger who criticized him for working with his opponents. Also in Utah, Mitt Romney's brand of conservatism may survive his Senate retirement because the primary candidate most closely aligned to Romney's approach beat out a Trump-endorsed candidate.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, at least one strong Trump supporter did actually advance last night and that's Congresswoman Lauren Bobert who won her primary in Colorado after she switched to run in a less competitive district. We've got more on all of these results and coverage previewing tomorrow night's presidential debate all at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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