Kuwait police disperse 'stateless' protesters

Masked police wielding batons and backed by armoured vehicles clash with hundreds of protesters demanding citizenship.

    Policemen detain demonstrators during a protest by stateless people to demand citizenship and other basic rights [AFP]
    Policemen detain demonstrators during a protest by stateless people to demand citizenship and other basic rights [AFP]

    Kuwaiti riot police have used batons and armoured vehicles to disperse a group of about 200 stateless protesters, the latest rally by descendants of mainly desert nomads seeking improved rights in the oil-exporting Gulf state.

    Photos of convoys of security forces moving along the highways, then gathering and confronting what seems to be a small crowd on Tuesday were also posted on Twitter.

    Known in Arabic as "bidoon" and numbering up to 180,000 people, the stateless are denied citizenship under strict nationality laws in Kuwait, where citizens are entitled to generous welfare benefits.

    Security forces have cracked down on the bidoon before, notably in January, when they employed tear gas and batons to disperse crowds demanding citizenship.

    Kuwait's wealth has helped it avoid any major spillover of the "Arab Spring" pro-democracy revolts onto its territory. But a deadlock between parliament and the government and accusations of graft by the ex-prime minister have stirred unrest.

    Police over the past year have also broken up several marches of stateless demonstrators that attracted several hundred people in marginalised neighbourhoods near the capital.

    Large demonstrations are rare in Kuwait. 

    'Rights' demanded

    Gathering in a square on Kuwait City's outskirts after prayers in a nearby mosque, Tuesday's demonstrators called on
    the country's ruler to grant them citizenship.

    "We want this from your highness the emir, not the government, not the ministers," the mainly young men chanted as helicopters circled overhead.

    Masked police dressed in black and wielding long batons charged the group and led away a handful of protesters, gripping them by the back of the neck.

    "Look at how they treat us, look at this!" shouted an older man, banging a cane on the ground.

    Most of the other demonstrators ran into the surrounding residential areas crammed with squat corrugated metal houses
    lined by dirt roads.

    "I came to be here with my stateless brothers," said Nasser al-Nanaphan, a Kuwaiti with the country's flag draped over his shoulders. "I am calling for their rights."

    Kuwait's population, including foreign workers, is around three million. It is considered the most democratic state in a Gulf region dominated by Western-backed dynasties.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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