Kuwait government resigns

KUWAIT Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:08am EST

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KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait's prime minister and his government resigned Monday in response to escalating demands by protesters and opposition deputies that he step down over corruption allegations.

The oil-producing state has tolerated criticism of its government to a degree rare among its Gulf neighbors, helping to insulate it from the protest-driven political tumult that has helped topple four Arab leaders this year.

But tensions rose sharply this month when opposition lawmakers and protesters stormed parliament to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah.

"We decided to submit our resignation to comply with the national interest and due to the danger the situation had reached," the state television channel cited Sheikh Nasser as saying.

The storming of parliament followed a request filed by a group of MPs to question Sheikh Nasser, which was blocked by the cabinet in a move decried as unconstitutional by the opposition.

Opposition MPs warned that if Sheikh Nasser did not step up to the questioning stand on November 29, they would escalate their campaign against him.

Kuwait has been locked in a long-running political battle between the government dominated by the ruling Al Sabah family and the 50-member elected parliament.

"BLACK DAY"

The emir, who appoints all but one member of Kuwait's government including the prime minister, accepted the government's resignation, state news agency KUNA reported.

Last week the emir had said he would not allow his PM to resign or dissolve the elected parliament, denouncing as a "black day" the storming of the assembly.

At least 45 people were arrested over the incident. Earlier Monday, parliamentary sources said if the resignation were accepted, it could take up to three months to form a new government. During that time parliament sessions would be suspended.

The parliament speaker told reporters after a meeting with the emir and members of the cabinet that he had not been informed of any decision to dissolve the assembly.

The opposition was due to go ahead with a protest outside the parliament building later Monday despite the resignation.

"We hope that the next step is dissolving the parliament, because a quarter of the members were referred to the prosecutor over corruption allegations," Islamist opposition lawmaker Dhaifallah Buramia told reporters.

Since Sheikh Nasser became prime minister in 2006, seven cabinets have been re-jigged and three times the emir has been pushed to dissolve parliament and call early elections.

The previous cabinet resigned in March to avoid parliamentary questioning of three ministers, the main weapon the elected body has against the government.

A small population and a generous social welfare system have shielded Kuwait, which sits on one-tenth of global crude reserves, from mass protests that have buffeted the Arab world this year, helping oust the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

(Reporting by Eman Goma and Mahmoud Harbi; writing by Isabel Coles; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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