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Middle East

Five arrested at big Kuwait anti-government rally

A policeman gestures at Kuwaiti demonstrators during an anti-government protest in front of the parliament in Kuwait City, October 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Jassim

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti security forces detained five people, including the son of a prominent opposition figure, at an anti-government rally calling for greater powers for parliament, witnesses said on Tuesday.

Several people were hurt in skirmishes at the rally, attended by at least 5,000 people who defied a request by authorities to cancel Monday's late evening demonstration.

The son of Ahmed al-Saadoun, a prominent opposition figure and former parliament speaker, was among those detained during the protest near parliament, where several anti-government demonstrations have taken place in the past year.

Although Kuwait has avoided the mass Arab Spring protests seen elsewhere across the region tensions have escalated between the major oil producer's elected parliament and the cabinet chosen by emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah's prime minister.

Kuwait's political crises have mainly centred around the right of parliament to question a government staffed mainly by members of the ruling family.

"In the name of the nation, in the name of the people, we will not let you, your highness, ... practice autocratic rule," another opposition figure, former parliament member Musallam al-Barrak, told the rally in a fiery speech addressed to the emir.

His remarks, including rare criticism of Kuwait's leader, drew repeated chants of "We will not let you, we will not let you" from the crowd.

Although Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some of its fellow Gulf states, criticism of the 83-year-old emir is extremely rare. He is referred to as "immune and inviolable" in the constitution.

Opposition politicians and political activists called on the emir to set a date for upcoming parliamentary elections. They have voiced concern that Kuwait may change its electoral law in a way that would favour pro-government candidates.

Witnesses at the protest, where police in full riot gear were deployed, said at least five protesters were arrested.

Several people, including police, were injured when demonstrators clashed with police as they tried to spread into a barricaded street. Kuwaiti media published pictures of lines of police confronting Kuwaitis in white garb holding up railings.

"The government has not responded yet. This means we are entering into the start of a confrontation," economic analyst Adnen al-Delemi said, adding that the government's promised economic reforms were now a distant hope because of the turmoil.

Last year, scores of angry Kuwaitis stormed parliament demanding the resignation of the then prime minister, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, heralding one of the most serious recent crises in the country.

The latest turmoil began in June when Kuwait's top court effectively annulled the most recent election, held in February, which gave mainly Islamist lawmakers a majority in parliament, and reinstated the previous, more government-friendly, assembly.

Sheikh Sabah ordered the dissolution of that parliament last week after months of political deadlock. Under the constitution, elections must be held within 60 days of dissolution, but there has been no date announced so far.

 

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