KUWAIT: Opposition activists said that dozens of protesters were hurt and many others arrested as elite special forces used tear gas, percussion grenades and rubber bullets as they bid to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators who filled part of the Gulf Road yesterday. Witnesses said they saw around 10 men on the ground apparently after inhaling large quantities of tear gas while several former MPs and activists said they were beaten up by riot police. A number of activists and demonstrators were also arrested including former Islamist MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei, spokesman of the National Front Khaled Al-Fadhalah and his younger brother Rashed.
The organizers claimed that the protesters exceeded 150,000 people, which would be the largest gathering in the history of the state, while independent onlookers said there might have been close to 40,000 and 50,000 protesters. It was difficult to estimate the numbers because protesters were going and coming down the Gulf Road.
Earlier in the day, police went to action very early as they tried to prevent people from gathering in three main sites set by the organizers in Kuwait City. They also cordoned off empty areas along the demonstration routes in an apparent bid to limit protester numbers by restricting parking. Riot police succeeded in preventing any gathering in any of the three sites, so organizers immediately changed the venue to the Kuwait Towers. Protesters immediately thronged to the Towers and blocked the Arabian Gulf Road between Mais Al-Ghanem restaurant and opposite Safir hotel.
In the beginning, riot police did not interfere as people walked in droves toward the new gathering site. But later it went into action again, firing many rounds of sound bombs which dangerously flew overhead and landed on the ground at fast speeds. They also used tear gas and rubber bullets and activists said as many as dozens were wounded. The Liberation Tower was also evacuated of all employees after demonstrators took refuge inside from security forces who were besieging the building. A group of protesters then gathered at the square outside the National Assembly where national guards watched the crowds. The demonstrators were earlier scheduled to march on the Seif Palace which houses offices of HH the Amir, crown prince and prime minister. “It looks like a battlefield,” Mohammad Rashed, a private sector employee, said as he left the scene, accompanied by his wife and other relatives.
“First aid centers were set in the Grand Mosque, the Palace of Justice, Municipality Park, Nayef Palace, Sailor’s Day Cafe, the Minister’s Council and various ministries to provide immediate medical and emergency services”, medical sources said, adding that liaison officers have been dispatched in various hospitals. They added all empty beds in various hospitals were allocated to receive the injured through the liaison officers. Medical staff who were off work were also called in.
Former MP Abdullah Al-Barghash said the opposition will continue its protests until the “illegal and unconstitutional” Amiri decree changing the electoral law was abolished. The opposition called for the demonstration to protest against the decree that would cut the number of candidates that can be picked by each eligible voter to one from a maximum of four earlier. The opposition insists that the aim of the change is to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections, scheduled for Dec 1, and to elect a rubber-stamp Assembly.
As the police was battling with protesters, HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah received at Dar Salwa HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Chairman of the Al-Sabah Family Council and Dean of the Al-Sabah Family, HH Sheikh Salem Al-Ali Al-Sabah, Head of Kuwait National Guard and other members of the Al-Sabah family. Sheikh Nawaf and Sheikh Salem affirmed to the Amir the “loyalty and obedience” of all members of the Al-Sabah Family. The Amir thanked them for their sentiments and underscored that the relations between the Al-Sabah family and Kuwaitis were based on mutual love and solidarity, keenness on commitment to the constitution and strict implementation of law on all.
Earlier, notable tribal chiefs who met with HH the Amir yesterday said they were honored with the face-to-face meeting with him and expressed opposition to violent protests and reaffirmed loyalty to Sheikh Sabah and Al-Sabah family. Falah bin Jamea, the chief of Al-Awazem tribe, said in a statement after the meeting: “I was honored with the meeting with HH the Amir. The meeting was good and I am against demonstrating and hitting policemen or infringing on state properties. I disagree with such acts and we are faithful to the ruling family; however I have taken a well-known stand regarding the elections. I have declared it before and I maintain it now.”
Jazzaa Al-Ejran of Al-Khawaled tribe praised the good conversations during the cordial and amicable meeting. “It was in the literal sense, a meeting that grouped the father with his children.” Mutleg Omar Bou-Rgubbah of Otaibah confirmed that he and his colleagues came to the diwan to discuss the forthcoming elections. “We heard good and sound stances and we will obey his orders,” he stressed. The representative of Al-Hawajer tribe, Nasser Madi Bin Taazeh, expressed gratitude to the Amir for his call for the meeting “to sound out His Highness on matters that concern interests of the country”.
Faisal Bandar Al-Deweish of Al-Mutair tribe said the Amir explained to the eminent attendees objectives of reforming the electoral law, noting Sheikh Sabah’s adherence to the laws for the sake of justice. Nasser Bin Ghosein Al-Dosari of Al-Dawaser affirmed that he and his fellow tribal chiefs would take into consideration what the Amir desires. Identical sentiments were expressed by Adwan Bin Tawaleh of Shummar, Mutleg Abu Thunain of Subai’ and Fayer Al-Dabbous of Al-Fodool. Abu Thunain expressed support for the Amir’s favoring of the single-constituency system for the elections.
Mislet Zeben Al-Hethal of Eneza indicated at necessity to stay faithful to the top leaders amid current turbulent regional conditions. Fahad Abdul Aziz Al-Suwait of Al-Thufair said the meeting was distinguished with consensus on the necessity of maintaining national unity. Sultan bin Salman bin Huthaileen of Al-Ajman praised the Amir for his keenness on safeguarding Kuwait. But Falah Faisal Al-Deweish of Mutair said it would be up to the members of the tribe to decide whether to take part in the elections.
Abdullah Matar Al-Musairee of Harb declared unwavering allegiance to the Amir, and Mohammed bin Rashed bin Shaaban of Al-Hawajer indicated that the conferees raised some issues during the meeting and that the Amir responded positively. Abdullah Saud Al-Matni Al-Majedi expressed gratitude to the Amir for restructuring the electoral system to hold the polls on the single-constituency basis, “for this would enable small tribes to take part in the elections”. Hamad Al-Shenouf called on the citizens to be calm and cooperate for maintaining security of Kuwait. Eid Al-Braikan Al-Majedi thanked the Amir for “his support for the minorities and we call on the majority to take part in the upcoming elections”. Bader bin Abdullah bin Nahit of Harb urged Kuwaitis to join efforts for maintaining the national unity.
In the latest clampdown on opposition leaders and activists, the public prosecution service issued an arrest warrant for a member of the scrapped 2012 parliament, Osama Al-Munawer. Munawer joins three former opposition MPs who have been in detention since Thursday. The prosecution yesterday extended their detention by 10 days, according to Al-Humaidi Al-Subaie, one of their defence lawyers. Political tension has strongly impacted the Kuwait Stock Exchange which shed 3.05 percent at the start of the business week yesterday, the biggest single day loss in more than three years.