Kuwaiti court frees top opponent after violent clashes

AFP , Thursday 1 Nov 2012

After night-long street fights between police and protesters triggered by detention of Mussallam Al-Barrak, Kuwaiti court orders Thursday opposition leader's release on bail

Mussallam al-Barrak
Former member of Kuwaiti parliament Mussallam al-Barrak (Photo: Reuters)

A Kuwaiti court on Thursday ordered the release on bail of opposition leader Mussallam Al-Barrak following a night of violent protests that left dozens hurt, his lawyer said.

News of the court order came as opposition groups convened in an emergency meeting in the wake of the night-long clashes, which also saw more than 20 demonstrators arrested, according to activists.

"A judge ordered the release of Barrak on bail of 10,000 dinars ($35,600) pending trial," lawyer Abdulrahman al-Barrak told AFP, adding that his client was expected to be freed from the central jail later in the day.

Thousands of protesters staged a demonstration on Wednesday, marching on the central jail to demand freedom for the former lawmaker before police confronted them with tear gas and stun grenades.

Clashes continued into the early hours of Thursday and spread to several areas of the Gulf state.

The disturbances in the OPEC member saw the Kuwait Stock Exchange index dive about 2.0 percent to 5,645.31 points on Thursday.

Barrak was arrested on Monday and two days later his detention was renewed for 10 days, triggering the angry demonstrations.

He has been charged with undermining the status of Kuwait's emir at a public rally on October 15 for which he could face a jail sentence of up to five years, his lawyer said.

Kuwaiti opposition groups meanwhile went into an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation following the clashes and what they claim was the use by police of excessive force, an activist said.

The interior ministry said in a statement five policemen were wounded during the overnight clashes when two vehicles hit them and sped away. It said one of the vehicles bore a "foreign number plate."

The ministry said police arrested several protesters without giving a number but witnesses told AFP that at least 23 people were detained.

Activists said that dozens of people, especially children, were rushed to hospital after inhaling gas when riot police made extensive use of stun grenades and tear gas canisters in their attempt to disperse the protesters.

The activists said police chased demonstrators in the Sabah Al-Nasser area, a predominantly tribal district near the central jail, into homes and beat them up.

The violence continued there until riot police withdrew at around 3:00 am (1200 GMT) after about seven hours of unrest.

Protests spread to other mostly tribal areas as police clashed with demonstrators in residential areas near the oil hub of Al-Ahmadi, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Kuwait City and also in northern Kuwait.

The violent protests were the second major confrontation between police and the opposition in the past 10 days. On October 21, more than 100 people and 11 policemen were hurt during a massive protest.

The opposition plans to stage another demonstration on Sunday amid a stern warning by authorities that any illegal protest will be stopped by force.

Senior Kuwaiti cleric Nabeel al-Awadhi said on Thursday that he and a number of other clerics had begun an initiative aimed at ending the political stalemate in the country. He did not elaborate.

Tensions have been simmering since the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, on October 19 said he had ordered the government to amend the controversial electoral law.

The opposition claims the change is aimed at electing a rubber stamp parliament.

Kuwait is scheduled to hold snap polls on December 1 which almost all opposition groups have announced they will boycott.

The Gulf state has been rocked by a series of ongoing political disputes since 2006 during which the cabinet was forced to resign nine times and parliament was dissolved on six occasions.

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