* At least five arrested, several injured
* Opposition figure warns emir against "autocratic rule"
* Rhetoric escalates after parliament dissolution
By Mahmoud Harby
KUWAIT, Oct 16 Kuwaiti security forces detained
at least five people, including the son of a prominent
opposition figure, at an anti-government protest against
possible changes to an election law, witnesses said on Tuesday.
Several people were hurt in skirmishes at the rally,
attended by at least 5,000 people who defied a request by
authorities to cancel the Monday night demonstration.
Although Kuwait has avoided the mass Arab Spring protests
seen elsewhere in the region, tensions have escalated between
the major oil producer's elected parliament, where the majority
opposition bloc is made up of Islamist and tribal lawmakers, and
the cabinet which is dominated by the ruling al-Sabah family.
One of Kuwait's main opposition groups called for a sit-in
outside parliament on Tuesday to protest the arrests.
In some of the strongest remarks by an opposition figure,
former lawmaker Musallam al-Barrak appealed directly to Kuwait's
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to avoid "autocratic rule".
His speech to the crowd contained extremely rare criticism
of the 83-year-old emir, which analysts said could spark a
strong reaction from the authorities.
The son of Ahmed al-Saadoun, another prominent opposition
leader and former parliament speaker, was among those detained
during the protest near parliament, where several
anti-government demonstrations have taken place in the past
"In the name of the nation, in the name of the people, we
will not let you, your highness, ... practice autocratic rule,"
Barrak told the rally in a speech addressed to the emir.
His remarks, including the criticism of the emir, drew
repeated chants of "we will not let you, we will not let you"
from the crowd.
Sheikh Sabah dissolved parliament last week and opposition
figures say they fear the government will try to push through
legislation before elections expected before the end of the
year, including voting rules that help pro-government candidates
perform well in the polls.
"I think the opposition is building up fear for political
reasons. They are in election campaigning mode," a Kuwait-based
"I would find it very surprising if the government tried to
push through changes by decree," the diplomat said, adding that
the tense atmosphere was likely to remain until the vote.
Although Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some of
its fellow Gulf states, the emir is seen as untouchable and is
referred to as "immune and inviolable" in the constitution.
"The incendiary public accusations directed by Musallam
al-Barrak at the emir of Kuwait are a milestone in the country,"
Gulf expert Kristian Ulrichsen at the London School of
Economics, wrote on Twitter.
Witnesses at the protest, where police in full riot gear
were deployed, said at least five people were arrested. Security
is tight as Kuwait is hosting Asian leaders for a summit.
"A number of instigators of rioting and violence were
arrested outside of the (square) and they were taken to the
relevant authorities where necessary actions have been taken
against them," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Several people, including police, were injured when
demonstrators clashed with police as they tried to spread into a
barricaded street. Kuwaiti media published pictures of lines of
police confronting Kuwaitis in white garb holding up railings.
"We are entering into the start of a confrontation,"
economic analyst Adnen al-Delemi said, adding that the
government's promised economic reforms were now a distant hope
because of the turmoil.
Last year, scores of angry Kuwaitis stormed parliament
demanding the resignation of the then prime minister, Sheikh
Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, heralding one of the most serious
recent crises in the country.
The latest row began in June when Kuwait's top court
annulled the most recent election, held in February, which gave
mainly Islamist lawmakers a majority in parliament, and
reinstated the previous, more government-friendly, assembly.
Sheikh Sabah ordered the dissolution of that parliament last
week after months of political deadlock. Under the constitution,
elections must be held within 60 days of dissolution, but there
has been no date announced so far.