Omar Hasan, AFP
Last updated: 4 November, 2012

Kuwait’s police used stun grenades against the opposition

Kuwaiti riot police used stun grenades and smoke bombs against thousands of demonstrators who defied a protest ban to block a major road south of the capital Sunday as the emir met leading opposition figures.

After elite special forces and police completely sealed off the original protest site in Kuwait City, organisers told supporters via Twitter to gather instead at Mishref, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the capital.

Although most roads leading to the new location were quickly closed off by police, thousands of people still managed to get through and immediately started marching.

They briefly cut off the sixth ring road, the main motorway in the south of Kuwait before calling off the demonstration barely an hour after it began.

Organisers later announced the end of the protest, declaring it a success but without announcing plans for further demonstrations.

“After we have expressed our message of rejecting any play in the constitution, we announce the end of the procession,” said the organisers on their Twitter account named “The Dignity of a Nation.”

The opposition said protesters numbered around 100,000 but observers said there were less. It was the third major protest since October 21.

The opposition called the march to protest against an amendment to an electoral law ordered by the emir last month ahead of a snap December 1 parliamentary election.

Activists said dozens of protesters were arrested during the march, and organisers said several people were taken in long after it finished. There were no reports of injuries.

Former opposition MP Mubarak al-Waalan criticised the use of force against protesters.

Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah late on Sunday met four opposition figures including two former Islamist MPs in what appeared to be a mediation effort aimed at ending the stalemate.

Former MP Mohammad Hayef said on Twitter that the emir told them he would accept that the constitutional court rule on the disputed amendment to the electoral constituency law which triggered the current stand-off.

It was the first official meeting between the emir and the opposition since the dispute began several weeks ago.

Earlier, hundreds of elite special forces and police deployed at two sites the opposition had set for Sunday’s demonstrations and blocked roads leading to them.

The government had vowed to use force if necessary to prevent the march, saying that demonstrations were illegal without a permit.

A government statement late on Saturday said the interior ministry had not given permission for Sunday’s demonstration, nor had it received a request from the organisers for one.

Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Humud al-Sabah told official news agency KUNA that security guards would maintain public order and curb any illegal activities.

Security forces used tear gas to break up two protests by tens of thousands of demonstrators in the past two weeks in which more than 130 protesters and 16 policemen were injured.

Almost all opposition groups have said they will boycott the December 1 poll in protest at what they see as a bid to create a rubber stamp assembly.

The opposition, made up of Islamists, nationalists and liberals, won a February general election but the constitutional court quashed the vote in June and reinstated the previous pro-government parliament which was dissolved last month.

Opposition leaders insist they have no desire to undermine the ruling Al-Sabah family, and on Friday pledged their loyalty to the emir while renewing their demand for the new electoral law to be repealed.