Kuwait police break up rally by stateless
Reuters, Saturday 14 Jan 2012
Kuwaiti police forcibly disperse a demonstration by stateless Arabs, known as Bidoons, struggling for years to gain citizenship

Police in Kuwait used water cannon and tear gas to disperse hundreds of stateless people who defied a ban on protests and held a demonstration to call for citizenship rights, Al Jazeera television reported on Saturday.

Several people were injured and dozens detained in the rally on Friday, the latest by the stateless in the oil-exporting Gulf state, the television said.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement protesters damaged property and police vehicles and threw stones, injuring several officers.

Stateless Arabs, known as Bidoons, often hold small-scale demonstrations in marginalised neighbourhoods 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.

The Interior Ministry this week banned any more such protests, drawing criticism by Human Rights Watch.

"This is a shameful effort to curb the rights to peaceful expression and assembly of Kuwait's (Bidoons)," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.

"These universal rights belong to everyone, regardless of whether they are considered citizens or are fighting to gain citizenship."

Kuwait's welfare system 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 some unrest.

The number of Bidoons in Kuwait is estimated at up to 180,000. The World Bank put Kuwait's population, including foreign workers, at more than 2.7 million in 2010.

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

It is considered the most democratic state in the Gulf region, which is dominated by Western-backed dynasties.