* Some Kuwaitis to protest against new voting rules
* The Gulf Arab state has outlawed unauthorised gatherings
* PM says police will not hesitate to use force if necessary
By Sylvia Westall and Ahmed Hagagy
KUWAIT, Nov 4 The opposition in Kuwait will
press ahead with a march on Sunday to protest against new voting
rules despite the government warning it will not tolerate
unsanctioned demonstrations, an activist said.
The OPEC member and U.S. ally said on Saturday it had not
authorised any protests and the prime minister warned police
could use force if the authorities felt the Gulf Arab state was
under serious threat.
Kuwait has avoided the kind of mass pro-democracy unrest
seen in other Arab countries, but tensions have mounted between
the elected parliament and the government, which is dominated by
the Al-Sabah ruling family.
The authorities outlawed 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.
"We will continue. The opposition no longer cares about
government statements," an opposition activist said, declining
to be named.
Kuwait's stock index fell to its lowest level since July
2004 on Sunday, according to Reuters data.
Opposition politicians, youth groups and their followers
have taken part in recent demonstrations protesting against
changes to an electoral law, which was 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
parliamentary elections set for Dec. 1, and have said they will
boycott the poll.
"A COUP AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION"
The opposition has called the changes - which allow voters
to choose only one candidate per electoral district - "a coup
against the constitution", saying the reform would prevent its
candidates from winning the majority they won in the last vote.
Forging an electoral alliance, which depends on supporters
of one candidate voting for another in exchange for reciprocal
support, would become unfeasible under the new system, they say.
Political parties are banned in Kuwait so lawmakers rely on
being able to form blocs based on policy and family ties.
However, the government says the amendments to the electoral
law were needed to preserve national unity.
Demonstrations about local issues occur frequently in
Kuwait, which tolerates more public dissent than some of its
Gulf neighbours. Violence had previously been very rare.
Security forces used teargas, stun grenades and baton
charges at protests last month, witnesses said.
"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 late on Saturday.
An opposition bloc, made up of Islamist, 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, MPs boycotted that assembly, meaning it was unable
to meet. The emir then dissolved it and called for snap
elections after months of political deadlock.
Kuwait has one of the most open political systems in the
Gulf and is home to an elected parliament with legislative
powers. But the 83-year-old emir has the final say in state
affairs and picks the prime minister, who in turn selects a