x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kuwait bans large public gatherings after clashes

Ruling follows mass rally in which at least 29 protesters and 11 policemen were injured as security forces tried to disperse tens of thousands of protesters using tear gas and stun grenades.

Kuwait riot policemen arrest a man during a demonstration in Kuwait City on Monday. Several thousand protesters gathered in the city to demonstrate against the government’s amendment of the electoral law.
Kuwait riot policemen arrest a man during a demonstration in Kuwait City on Monday. Several thousand protesters gathered in the city to demonstrate against the government’s amendment of the electoral law.

Kuwait's cabinet yesterday announced a ban on public gatherings of more than 20 people following a tense encounter between security forces and opposition groups earlier this week.

The largely Islamist and tribal opposition forces had gathered in central Kuwait City on Sunday to protest against changes to Kuwait's electoral system, which were announced by the emir, Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, on October 19.

At least 29 protesters and 11 policemen were injured as security forces tried to disperse tens of thousands of protesters using tear gas and stun grenades. Several protesters were arrested but have since been released, local media reported.

"Citizens are not allowed to hold a gathering of more than 20 individuals on roads or at public locations without obtaining a permit from the concerned governor," said a cabinet statement. "Police are entitled to prevent or disperse any unlicensed grouping."

The opposition accuses the government of attempting to secure a more pro-regime parliament and has vowed to boycott the ballot on December 1.

The government, however, says it has sought to close loopholes in the electoral system that had caused a court to disband the most recently elected parliament in June, which was dominated by the Islamists and their allies.

Analysts say the current protests are also indicative of larger demands by the opposition to push the country further toward constitutional monarchy.

Earlier this summer, the opposition demanded that they be allowed to form political parties and that parliament be allowed to select the cabinet.

Demands have grown in recent months, said James Worrall, a security studies expert on the Arabian Gulf region at Britain's University of Leeds.

"Everything depends on whether the ruling family is willing to give up their ability to directly appoint the prime minister," he said. "Until that changes, I don't see anything else changing; it will be a stand-off."

One telling indication of the rift between the government and the opposition is the varied accounts provided by either side of the recent protests.

Opposition figures estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 Kuwaitis demonstrated peacefully against the electoral changes on Sunday.

The interior ministry, however, said in a statement on its website that those numbers were "exaggerated" and that some protesters were guilty of "terrorising civilians" and "acts of incitement".

edickinson@thenational.ae