Kuwait police fire tear gas at protesters

March over changes to voting laws staged after opposition vows to boycott upcoming parliamentary election.

    Police in Kuwait have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters staging a march to denounce changes in voting laws, which were announced by the government ahead of December 1 parliamentary elections, witnesses said. 

    The protests in the capital, Kuwait City, were launched on Sunday after opposition groups said they will boycott the upcoming election, calling amendments to the voting system  a "coup against the constitution".

    "Any act of violence, riots, instigation of violence... and undermining national security will be dealt with forcefully and firmly"

    - Kuwait interior ministry

    The processions were staged through the city in defiance of authorities' orders to limit their protests to areas outside parliament.

    The December snap polls are the second this year and the fifth since mid-2006 as parliament has repeatedly been dissolved because of political disputes.

    The government, at an extraordinary meeting in Kuwait City on Saturday, ordered elections to be held on December 1, and decided to amended the election law to allow each voter to choose only one candidate instead of four.

    Kuwait has been torn by a power struggle between the government, controlled by the ruling al-Sabah family, and the
    elected parliament. The turmoil has blocked development plans and paralysed the political system.

    Opposition leaders, meeting at a guest house owned by former parliament speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun, blamed the government for the political crisis and warned it was driving the country towards "oppressive autocratic rule".

    "We call on the proud and free people of Kuwait to ... boycott the upcoming election, both by [refraining] from running
    in it or casting ballots," a statement after the meeting on Saturday said.

    It asked Kuwaitis to join the protest march on Sunday, and warned the interior minister against committing "aggression" against it.

    The interior ministry said it would not allow any "sit-ins, gatherings, processions, rallies... in any place other than the square facing parliament".

    "Any act of violence, riots, instigation of violence... and undermining national security will be dealt with forcefully and firmly," the ministry said.

    Political turmoil

    Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait's emir, dissolved parliament on October 7, and under Kuwait's constitution elections are supposed to be held within 60 days.

    It was the sixth dissolution of parliament since early 2006 in the state.

    Sabah, in a televised speech on Friday night, instructed the government to change the election law in what he
    said was a move to stem recurring crisis.

    He also said the constitutional court had issued a ruling that allowed for any necessary changes to be made to the country's electoral system.

    Sabah warned in his speech that recent political turmoil in Kuwait could lead to "strife that could be about to erupt and destroy our unity, disfigure our identity and tear apart our society into fragmented groups".

    He said he had instructed the government to establish a national electoral committee and to organise election campaigns "to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process."

    Kuwaiti authorities arrested two opposition politicians on Thursday and interrogated a third after they made comments seen as criticising the emir.

    The former members of parliament spoke at an opposition-led rally of about 5,000 people on Monday, at which Kuwaitis later clashed with riot police close to parliament.

    The arrests have prompted protests in Kuwait, including one late on Friday, when about 1,000 people gathered in the
    centre of the capital to demand the release of the detainees.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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