Kuwaitis clash with police over poll law
Kuwaiti opposition supporters face police during a demonstration in Kuwait. EPA PhotoAround 100 protesters and 11 policemen were hurt as Kuwaiti riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes with tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting against changes to the electoral law which the opposition has called a constitutional coup by the government, witnesses and officials said.
“The number of wounded protesters in hospital has exceeded 100 after riot police attacked them,” director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights Mohammad al-Humaidi said on his Twitter account.
Masked police in full riot gear repeatedly fired tear gas and sound bombs and later used rubber bullets to disperse the crowds led by former opposition MPs. The interior ministry said in a statement that 11 policemen were wounded after protesters threw rocks on them on Oct. 21, adding that police only acted after protesters became violent. Former opposition MP Abdullah al-Barghash told Agence France-Presse he saw injured men being taken to hospital in ambulances.
Some of the protesters were beaten up in one of the most violent protests in Kuwait.
At least 15 people, including former Islamist MP Waleed al-Tabtabai and a reporter, were detained.
Barghash and other activists put the number of protesters at more than 100,000, which would be the largest gathering in the history of the Gulf state, but independent onlookers estimated the crowd at more than 30,000. “The way demonstrators were dealt with is unprecedented in Kuwait,” Barghash said. The opposition decided to take to the streets after the government - which is dominated by the ruling Al-Sabah family - announced last week it was calling elections for Dec. 1 and would change the electoral law “to preserve national unity,” Reuters reported.
The announcement was the latest move in an intensifying power struggle between the ruling establishment and parliament that has seen eight governments come and go since the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, came to power in 2006.
The 83-year-old dissolved parliament on Oct. 7. It was the sixth time the oil-rich state and key U.S. ally had disbanded its legislature since early 2006. Its oil wealth and a generous welfare state have helped Kuwait avoid the kind of “Arab Spring” protests that toppled leaders elsewhere in the region.
Before Sunday’s protest got underway, the authorities had promised to “decisively confront” demonstrators.
Witnesses said protesters who had initially been dispersed later regrouped to form a crowd estimated at more than 20,000 at a main road near Kuwait Towers, a seaside landmark in the Gulf oil producer.
Demonstrators said they had were motivated by a feeling of injustice. Former Islamist MP Jamaan al-Harbash declared a victory for the people and a defeat for the regime and “these protests will not stop until the nation restores its dignity.”
Kuwait has been convulsed by regular demonstrations since last year, and the opposition - including Islamists, liberals and tribal figures who won a majority in the 50-seat parliament in the last election in February - have rejected the emir’s proposed changes and said they will boycott the vote.