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Middle East
Kuwait's stateless rally for rights
At least 1,000 Arabs demonstrate to demand citizenship in Gulf country, leading to dozens of arrests.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2011 20:52 GMT
 A wave of political unrest has swept across Africa and the Middle East since December [GALLO/GETTY]

At least 1,000 stateless Arabs have demonstrated in Kuwait demanding citizenship, leading to dozens of them being arrested by police, witnesses have said.

Ambulances rushed an unspecified number of wounded protesters and security forces away from the scene, with a witness telling the AFP news agency that at least five people were hurt, one of them seriously.

The protest in Jahra, northwest of Kuwait City, on Friday was the first in the Gulf Arab state since a wave of unrest began sweeping across the Middle East in December.

Security forces dispersed the demonstration, using smoke bombs and water cannon after protesters refused warnings to leave.

Several MPs warned the government against using force against the protesters and blamed it for failing to resolve the problem.

'Legitimate protest'

"We call for dealing peacefully with the bidoons (stateless people) demonstration and warn against the use of force or arresting the protesters," Jamaan al-Harabsh, a Kuwaiti MP, said in a statement.

"The protest of bidoons is legitimate and the government is responsible for this because it has failed to resolve the problem," independent MP Daifallah Buramia said.

Stateless Arabs, estimated at more than 100,000, claim they have the right to Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government says that ancestors of many of them came from neighbouring countries and they are not entitled to nationality.

Kuwait launched a crackdown on them in 2000, depriving them of their essential rights in a bid to force them to reveal what the authorities say are their true identities.

Authorities said that following the crackdown, some 20,000 of them disclosed their original citizenship and were given residence permits like other foreigners.

Many of them have no right to a driver's licence, cannot get birth certificates for their babies or death certificates for the dead. They are also banned from getting their marriage contracts attested.

Due to stringent government restrictions, a majority of them are living in dire economic conditions in oil-rich Kuwait, where the average monthly salary of native citizens is more than $3,500.

Most of the stateless claim to be Kuwaitis whose forefathers, who lived as Bedouins in the desert, failed to apply for citizenship when the state first introduced its nationality law in 1959.

Source:
Agencies
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