KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's ruler dissolved parliament and set the nation towards elections, citing "deteriorating conditions" amid an increasingly bitter political showdown over alleged high-level corruption.
The decision by the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jabar Al Sabah, comes less than a week after he named a new prime minister and parliament sessions were put on hold.
Elections must be held within 60 days - which could complicate plans by the Pentagon to station thousands more US soldiers in Kuwait as part of troop shifts around the region after the withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the month.
Critics of Kuwait's ruling family claim it turns a blind eye to allegations of widespread corruption and uses security forces to crush dissenting voices.
Kuwait's parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the GCC, and opposition MPs openly criticise the ruling family.
Last month, protesters stormed parliament after a debate over allegations that government officials funnelled payoffs to bank accounts outside the country. Authorities quickly imposed stricter security measures.
"Due to the deteriorating conditions that led to obstruction of process of achievements and threatened the country's higher interests, it became necessary to resort to the people to select their representatives, overcome existing obstacles and realise national interests," said a statement by Sheikh Sabah.
Late last month, the emir selected his defence minister, Sheikh Jaber Al Hamad Al Sabah, as the new prime minister, replacing the long-serving Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah, who had survived several no-confidence votes in parliament and was the target of opposition groups calling for his dismissal.
Kuwait also has been hit by a wave of strikes that grounded the state airline and threatened to disrupt oil shipments.
The nation has not been hit by major pro-reform demonstrations, but it stands out in the region because of its hardball political atmosphere.
In January, the emir ordered 1,000 dinar (Dh13,250) grants and free food coupons for every Kuwaiti.