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Two injured as Kuwait cracks down on protests

Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at protesters, who called for the release of jailed opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak
Barrak accuses former government officials of engaging in massive corruption and plotting a coup (AFP)

Kuwaiti police fired teargas and rubber bullets on Thursday evening at protesters demanding the release of opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak, according to activists.

Two people were shot, injured in the hand and leg respectively, and some 50 people arrested during protests involving several hundred people in the Sabah al-Nasser and al-Riqqa areas. Police officers blocked roads, fired tear gas and used stun grenades to disperse protesters, activists in attendance told MEE.

Protesters were demanding the release of opposition leader Barrak, who has been held in custody since Wednesday when the public prosecutor ordered he be questioned for allegedly insulting the head of the judiciary Faisal al-Mershed. Barrak gave a speech on 10 June at a rally in al-Irada Square where he claimed to have evidence exposing the theft of public funds running into the tens of billions of dollars by former government officials and senior members of the judiciary.

The scandal has deepened with claims that the same officials involved in alleged corruption appeared in an infamous video plotting a coup to unseat the country’s al-Sabah rulers, who have in turn attempted to censor local media from covering the allegations. It is an incident that has rocked Kuwait and is likely to run and run, with ruling family member and former energy minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahad al-Sabah having filed two lawsuits demanding an investigation into the allegations.

Activists and commentators catalogued Thursday’s protest on social media, sharing photos and videos allegedly showing police officers firing stun grenades along with protesters suffering the effects of tear gas inhalation.

Graphic images were also posted, purporting to show injuries sustained by a man allegedly shot by police officers with rubber bullets.

Barrak is due to appear in court on 7 July and activists say more protests are planned to take place on Sunday.

“There will be a very, very big protest on Sunday called Karamat Watan (A Nation’s Dignity),” said Nawaf al-Hendal, a Kuwaiti human rights activist who attended the protest. “This will be the eighth time this protest has been organised, with one in 2012 attracting about 150,000 protesters.”

“It has been announced on Twitter that it will take place at 2200 (1900 GMT) and I expect there to be more than 20,000 people there,” he added.

The Karamat Watan Twitter account shared details late on Thursday evening, for the protest planned to take place on Sunday.

Translation: For the continuation of our battle to cleanse our nation of corrupt and venal officials, we invite you to participate in the 8th #MarchForNationalDignity, Sunday 6/7 10pm #ThePeopleDemandAReformedJudiciary

Translation: Important information: Start-point: The square outside the big state mosque End-point: Palace of Justice Time: 10pm #ThePeopleDemandAReformedJudiciary

The 2012 Karamat Watan march is believed to have been the biggest in Kuwait’s history, with an estimated 150,000 people protesting in a country of three million people. On that occasion protesters were angry with changes made to the electoral law without their input, during a period of political turmoil for the Gulf State that saw some dozen governments formed and parliament dissolved six times.

Analysts have said this latest crisis points to a renewed period of crisis for Kuwait, citing two sides who appear unwilling to stand down.

“It seems that Kuwait is headed toward the sort of polarization we saw in 2011 and 2012 and the period of relative political calm is over,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “If neither side backs down then we could see the destabilising shift of politics from the parliamentary chamber to the street such as occurred two years ago,” he added.

Others agree that polarisation will continue, saying evidence of corruption has buoyed the opposition movement.

“The latest protests in Kuwait have, as far as I can tell, been the ‘edgiest’ so far, mainly because the visible injustice has been the greatest,” said Christopher Davidson, reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University. “Sparked by leaked images of opposition leader Barrak in prison fatigues, it has given the opposition movement the standard bearer it needs.”

Photos of Barrak in prison clothes circulated have circulated widely on Twitter, causing much anger among opposition supporters. 

“Embattled on all sides, facing domestic and external pressures, it’s likely the ruling elite will lash out further, which will only broaden the appeal of the opposition,” Davidson added.

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