x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Kuwaitis angry over police action against rally

Politicians criticise PM after protesters are injured at political gathering.

Kuwaiti special forces clashed with protesting MPs during an outdoor rally in Sulaibkhat, west of Kuwait City, late on Wednesday.
Kuwaiti special forces clashed with protesting MPs during an outdoor rally in Sulaibkhat, west of Kuwait City, late on Wednesday.

KUWAIT CITY // Furious MPs yesterday threatened to question the Kuwaiti prime minister in parliament after politicians and citizens were hospitalised after baton-wielding police crushed a political rally.

"The government of Sheikh Nasser al Mohammed doesn't deserve to stay even one more day," said Musallam al Barrak, one of about a dozen MPs who were in the thick of the melee in Sulaibikhat, a suburb of Kuwait City, on Wednesday night.

"What happened on Wednesday night was a set-up," Mr al Barrak told reporters in the National Assembly. "The security forces said the seminar should be cancelled in 15 minutes or else they will attack. However, they launched their attack within the minute."

The rally was the second held by The Constitution Bloc, a group of MPs that coalesced after parliament was repeatedly adjourned because of a low turnout. They believe the government kept ministers and friendly MPs away from parliament to ensure it could not discuss lifting the immunity of the influential opposition politician Faisal al Muslim.

If the government's request to lift Mr al Muslim's immunity is not discussed and voted on within one month it is lifted by default, and he will be vulnerable to a case filed against him for revealing a 200,000 Kuwaiti dinar (Dh2.6 million) cheque in parliament last year that was allegedly written by the prime minister to a former MP.

Another opposition parliamentarian, Waleed al Tabtabae, whose head and an arm were bandaged, said the attack was a violation of the constitution and the law.

He said Kuwait would not allow even expatriates to be assaulted, "but unfortunately we have reached the stage where citizens and MPs are beaten".

The minister of the interior, Sheikh Jaber Khaled al Sabah, was quoted in the local press as saying the security forces did not beat anybody in the rally at the diwaniya - a villa - of the opposition parliamentarian, Jamaan al Harbash. The minister said they applied the law for monitoring social gatherings that was ratified by the parliament and upheld the emir's wishes.

"We will be very strict in addressing anyone who violates the law," he said.

Before the rally took place, amid increasing political tension, the speaker of the assembly was quoted in Kuna, the state news agency, as saying that the emir had banned gatherings in public areas outside rooms or buildings where Kuwaitis congregate to socialise.

Despite police roadblocks, about 400 supporters made it to the event. Most were packed inside the villa and others listened to speeches through amplifiers in the garden. More than 200 policemen, including members of the special forces and dozens of vehicles, amassed around the grounds.

"I was outside, more than 100 people decided to sit down in protest," said Omar, a student who gave only his first name. "The police officer told Harbash to leave or they will attack. People started to move, but they didn't have enough time - and then they charged."

The police pushed into the crowd with batons, bludgeoning the protesters as they reeled from the attack and made for the protection of the villa's outer wall. Men inside fought to shut the gates as the police advanced. The din of sticks pounding the metal was matched by screams of protest from the masses inside.

"They're laying siege to the entire area," said Abdullah, one of around 150 people trapped inside the house. "We came here to listen in peace; we are not terrorists."

"This is really surprising, because we thought this type of crisis can be solved peacefully within the parliament, but to use force?" said Abdullah al Nibari, a prominent Liberal and former MP.

Mr al Nibari believes the tension could escalate further. He said he is worried that the government's next step will be to dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution.

Wounded protesters and journalists displayed long red marks on their legs and backs caused, they said, by the batons. At least three MPs and several members of the public were treated in hospital.

The bloc's first rally at the veteran politician Ahmed al Sadoun's diwaniya on Saturday also ended in violence when Mohammed al Juwaihel, a former parliamentary candidate who has spoken against the country's tribes in the past, was severely beaten by the crowd. He was still in hospital on Tuesday. The Arab Times, a local daily newspaper, reported that 13 men, including some MPs' secretaries, have been arrested in connection with the assault.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae