x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kuwait warns dissenters against protest rally

Kuwait's Interior Ministry says it will act firmly against any "unlicensed" protests in the country, a day before a planned demonstration outside parliament.

KUWAIT // Kuwait's Interior Ministry said yesterday it would act firmly against any "unlicensed" protests in the country, a day before a planned demonstration outside parliament.

Opposition parliamentarians and activists have called for a rally at Erada Square today to protest against possible changes to an electoral law which they say could weaken their chances at the next polls.

The government has asked Kuwait's top court to rule on a 2006 law that divides the country into five constituencies, saying the verdict is needed to protect against possible legal challenges to future parliamentary elections.

But some opposition figures say this is a bid to abolish the current boundaries and gerrymander victory in elections expected this year or next. The court is due to rule on the government's petition on September 25.

"Calls for organising a rally, gathering and sit-in in al-Erada (Square) undermine security and threaten public order," the Interior Ministry said in a statement, according to state news agency KUNA.

The ministry "warned that it would act firmly against such unlicensed gatherings," KUNA said.

The ministry respects citizens' freedom of expression "provided they refrain from violating laws or carrying out acts against public security and others' freedom of expression," KUNA said, adding that penalties included imprisonment and fines.

While the OPEC member state has not experienced the kind of mass popular uprisings that have rocked the Arab region since last year, political tensions have grown.

With its elected legislature, lively political debate and media, Kuwait differs from most of its neighbours in a region mostly governed by autocrats who quash dissent.

But the Kuwait's ruling family retains its grip on state affairs. The emir picks the prime minister who in turn forms a cabinet, with the most important posts held by members of the royal family.

Some opposition figures have called for an elected government instead.

Around 3,000 Kuwaitis protested over the electoral law on August 27 at a peaceful rally at Erada with light police presence.

They also criticised a court ruling from earlier this year that effectively dissolved a parliament dominated by opposition lawmakers and reinstated the previous, more government-friendly, assembly.

At the height of frequent demonstrations last year over a political corruption scandal, tens of thousands of youth activists, opposition lawmakers and their followers took part in rallies, culminating in a brief storming of parliament in November.