Kenyan President William Ruto said Wednesday that a bill containing contentious tax hikes would “be withdrawn,” dramatically reversing course after more than 20 people were killed in clashes with police and parliament was ransacked by protesters opposed to the legislation.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, called on Wednesday for “clear accountability” after the protesters’ deaths.

The initially peaceful demonstrations were sparked last week by the 2024 finance bill – which politicians passed Tuesday afternoon – and took Ruto’s administration by surprise as rallies gathered momentum across the country, AFP reports.

Kenya’s protest sparked concerns across the globe following the death of protesters.

The Gen-Z-led protests spiralled into violence on Tuesday when police fired live bullets at the crowds outside parliament, leaving the complex ransacked and partly ablaze.

“I concede and therefore I will not sign the 2024 finance bill and it shall subsequently be withdrawn,” Ruto told a press briefing.

“The people have spoken,” he said.

“I will be proposing an engagement with the young people of our nation, our sons and daughters, for us to listen to them,” he said, in a marked shift from his late-night address Tuesday when he likened some of the demonstrators to “criminals”.

The UN chief spokesman, Dujarric, however, said, “Any time you see the lethal use of force by the police, by security forces, we would want to see a clear accountability, investigations. And we have no doubt that the Kenyan justice system will deliver on that – it’s an issue of accountability that is needed.”

Immediately after Ruto’s speech, prominent protester Hanifa Adan dismissed Ruto’s announcement as “PR”.

Referring to his comments the previous night, she said on X, “He made that speech trying to intimidate us and he saw it won’t work hence the PR.”

“The bill is withdrawn but are you going to bring everyone that died back alive ??”

Ahead of Ruto’s about-turn, protesters had called for fresh rallies on Thursday.

“Tomorrow we march peacefully again as we wear white, for all our fallen people,” Adan had said, adding, “You cannot kill all of us.”

Ruto came to power in 2022 promising to champion the needs of impoverished Kenyans, but tax increases under his government have only made life tougher for those already struggling with high inflation.

The Kenyan leader had already rolled back some tax measures last week, prompting the treasury to warn of a gaping budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings.

AFP reports that Ruto said on Wednesday that withdrawing the bill would mean a significant hole in funding for development programmes to help farmers and schoolteachers, among others.

The cash-strapped government had said previously that the increases were needed to service Kenya’s massive debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), equal to roughly 70 percent of GDP.

Earlier on Wednesday, Roseline Odede, chairwoman of the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said “we have recorded 22 deaths,” 19 of them in Nairobi, adding that they would launch an investigation.

“This is the largest number of deaths (in) a single day of protest,” she said, adding that 300 people were injured across the country.

Simon Kigondu, president of the Kenya Medical Association, said he had never before seen “such level of violence against unarmed people.”

An official at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi said Wednesday that medics were treating “160 people… some of them with soft tissue injuries, some of them with bullet wounds.”

Rights watchdogs have also accused the authorities of abducting protesters.

The police have not responded to AFP requests for comment.