Protesters flout ban in fight to become Kuwaitis

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 14, 2012 1:48 PM
Protesters flout ban in fight to become Kuwaitis

DUBAI (Reuters) - Police in Kuwait fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of stateless people Saturday after they defied a protest ban and held demonstrations calling for the right to become Kuwaiti citizens, residents said.

Stateless Arabs, known as Bidoons, often hold small-scale demonstrations in marginalised neighborhoods near the capital.

Many are descendants of desert nomads denied citizenship under strict nationality laws in Kuwait, whose citizens are entitled to generous welfare benefits.

"There were protests again in two areas outside Kuwait City today. There were dozens of arrests and some injuries, but those who are hurt often don't go to hospitals for fear of being arrested," a resident told Reuters.

Friday, several people were injured and dozens detained at another rally by the stateless people, al Jazeera TV said.

Protesters damaged property and police vehicles and threw stones injuring several officers during the Friday protest, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Kuwait had banned protests by the Bidoons, drawing criticism by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch group.

Kuwait's generous welfare system has helped it avoid the kind of discontent seen elsewhere in the region a year since Tunisia toppled its autocratic leader.

However, deadlock between parliament and the government and accusations of corruption against the ex-prime minister have stirred unrest.

Kuwait is estimated to be home to up to 180,000 Bidoons compared to a total population of more than 2.7 million in 2010, according to World Bank figures.

Kuwait, one of the richest countries in the world on a per capita basis, thanks to its oil wealth, plans to hold a parliamentary election in February, following the resignation of the government in November.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Harbi; Writing by Firouz Sedarat; editing by Andrew Roche)