Several people were wounded and dozens arrested on Friday as Kuwaiti police used tear gas, water cannons and batons to disperse stateless protesters demanding citizenship, witnesses and a rights group said.
Hundreds of riot police backed by armoured vehicles assaulted several hundred protesters who defied an interior ministry warning not to demonstrate as the authorities promised to resolve their decades-old plight.
The ministry said later in a statement that 21 policemen were wounded when protesters hurled rocks at them, with 16 of them treated on the spot and the rest hospitalised.
The statement said protesters ignored repeated police appeals to end the illegal demonstration and began throwing rocks and damaging public property, prompting police to intervene.
It said a number of protesters were arrested without revealing how many, but a security source told AFP that as many as 50 stateless people were detained.
Police chased the protesters into the streets of Jahra, northwest of the capital Kuwait City, and arrested many of them, including a 13-year-old boy, the independent Kuwait Association of Human Rights said on Twitter.
Some young protesters were seen with their heads bleeding after being beaten with batons by riot police, witnesses said.
The private Al-Watan TV channel said its cameraman was wounded.
Stateless people, officially known as illegal residents or bidoons, have been demonstrating for several weeks for their rights.
Kuwait’s interior ministry issued three statements this week warning them not to do so or face punishment.
The Islamic Ommah Party, the leftist Progressive Movement and former MPs and election candidates blasted what they called “police repression” and called for a peaceful solution to the problem.
“The repressive treatment of bidoons proves that the previous government’s approach is still continuing,” former opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak said in a statement.
Earlier on Friday, Human Rights Watch called on Kuwait to scrap the decision banning stateless people from protesting.
“This is a shameful effort to curb the rights to peaceful expression and assembly of Kuwait’s bidoons,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director, said in a statement.
Kuwait has long alleged that bidoons, and in some cases their ancestors, destroyed their original passports to claim the right to citizenship in order to gain access to the services and generous benefits provided by the state.
In a bid to force the bidoons to produce their original nationality papers, Kuwait has refused to issue essential documents to most of them, including birth, marriage and death certificates, according to a June HRW report.
Fifty-two bidoons are on trial for protesting and another 32 are under investigation.
More than 105,000 stateless people have lived in Kuwait for decades but were denied citizenship. The government says only 34,000 qualify for citizenship.