Kuwait warns against unlicensed protest planned for Sunday
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait said on Saturday it had not issued a permit to allow a planned protest against new voting rules and the prime minister warned police would use force if the nation was under threat.
Kuwait outlawed unauthorized gatherings of more than 20 people last month after an opposition-led demonstration by thousands ended in clashes between protesters and police in which at least 30 people were taken to hospital.
Although OPEC member and U.S. ally Kuwait has avoided the kind of mass pro-democracy unrest seen in other Arab countries, tensions have mounted between the elected parliament and the government, dominated by the Al-Sabah ruling family.
Demonstrations about local issues often occur in the major oil producer, but violence has previously been very rare.
Security forces used tear gas and smoke bombs at protests last month, witnesses said. Protesters, which include opposition politicians, youth groups and their followers plan a protest march on Sunday in central Kuwait.
Kuwaitis have been protesting changes to an electoral law, announced last month by ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
Some opposition politicians have said the changes are an attempt to give pro-government candidates an advantage in the parliamentary election on December 1. The government says the amendments were needed to preserve national unity.
"The state does not ... want to use violence, but when the security of the homeland is endangered and the safety of its citizens at risk, it will not hesitate to use force in the framework of the law and the constitution," state news agency KUNA quoted Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah as saying.
Opposition politicians have said they will boycott parliamentary elections next month, the second time Kuwait goes to the polls in 2012.
An opposition bloc, made up of Islamists, liberal and tribal lawmakers, won a majority at the last elections in February.
But that parliament was effectively dissolved by a court ruling in June which reinstated a more government-friendly assembly. However the old parliament was unable to meet due to a boycott by MPs, leading to another dissolution and a call by the emir for snap elections as a way out of the political deadlock.
The Information Ministry said it had not issued any demonstration permits or received any applications for them for Sunday's march and added that the security forces had an important role to enforce the law and to protect citizens.
On Thursday, the Interior Ministry said it would "deal firmly" with any gathering that violated the law.
Rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday that Kuwait must ensure its citizens are able to express their opinions, including about the electoral law, in a free and peaceful manner.
"The security forces must abide by international policing standards and refrain from using unlawful force in response to peaceful demonstrations," it said.
Kuwait has one of the most open political systems in the Gulf and is home to an elected parliament with legislative powers. However, the 83-year-old emir has the final say in state affairs and picks the prime minister, who in turn selects a cabinet. Major portfolios are held by Al-Sabah family members.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Jon Hemming)