Kuwait riot police disperse stateless protesters

Reuters News
Posted: May 01, 2012 12:30 PM
Kuwait riot police disperse stateless protesters

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwaiti riot police used batons and armored trucks to disperse a group of about 200 stateless protesters on Tuesday, the latest rally by descendants of mainly desert nomads seeking improved rights in the oil-exporting Gulf state.

Known in Arabic as "bidoon" and numbering up to 180,000 people, the stateless are denied citizenship under strict nationality laws in Kuwait, whose citizens are entitled to generous welfare benefits.

Kuwait's wealth has helped it avoid any major spillover of the "Arab Spring" pro-democracy revolts onto its territory. But a deadlock between parliament and the government and accusations of graft by the ex-prime minister have stirred unrest.

Police over the past year have also broken up several marches of stateless demonstrators that attracted several hundred people in marginalized neighborhoods near the capital. Large demonstrations are rare in Kuwait.

Gathering in a square on Kuwait City's outskirts after prayers in a nearby mosque, Tuesday's demonstrators called on the country's ruler to grant them citizenship.

"We want this from your highness the emir, not the government, not the ministers," the mainly young men chanted as helicopters circled overhead.

Masked police dressed in black and wielding long batons charged the group and led away a handful of protesters, gripping them by the back of the neck. "Look at how they treat us, look at this!" shouted an older man, banging a cane on the ground.

Most of the other demonstrators ran into the surrounding residential areas crammed with squat corrugated metal houses lined by dirt roads.

"I came to be here with my stateless brothers," Kuwaiti Nasser al-Nanaphan said, with the country's flag draped over his shoulders. "I am calling for their rights."

Kuwait's population, including foreign workers, is around 3 million. It is considered the most democratic state in a Gulf region dominated by Western-backed dynasties.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall)