By B Izzak, Staff Writer
KUWAIT: Elite special forces and police yesterday fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse thousands of stateless people or bedoons who demonstrated in Taima area in Jahra. A number of Kuwaiti activists joined the bedoon protesters amid tight and extraordinary security measures in which hundreds of police and special forces took part. The protesters gathered in a square they call the freedom square for the second time since Friday.
Police warned the crowd to disperse and gave them just 30 minutes to leave as they cordoned off the area and prevented people from entering and even sent journalists and photographers back. As the crowd swelled, special forces started firing the tear gas and used hot water cannons. The protesters were pushed back inside the residential area which is exclusively used by the bedoons, who are estimated at around 106,000.
Security men continued to chase the protesters inside the narrow streets as the bedoons and their supporters gathered in several groups in different places in the residential area, as a police helicopter hovered overhead. No injuries were reported as the Kuwaiti Progressive Movement claimed on its Twitter account that rubber bullets were also used but this could not be confirmed by an independent source. At least 12 people were arrested during the chase, including the reporter of Al-Rai newspaper Anwar Al-Feker, who was also beaten up and later detained during the storming of the National Assembly last month.
The chase continued until late yesterday as several Kuwaiti political and youth groups called for another gathering opposite the Assembly in Kuwait City to express their solidarity with bedoons and to press the government for resolving the decades-old humanitarian problem. Police cordoned off the area and demanded the civil identification cards from people going to the square to make sure only Kuwaitis were allowed to gather in accordance with the law that prevents non-Kuwaitis from demonstrating. A numberof Kuwaiti activists refused to enter the square because police demanded the civil IDs and moved to a location near the main square which is used for rallies.
In a statement late yesterday, the Interior Ministry warned illegal gatherings and demonstrations are banned regardless of their goals because it is a flagrant violation of the law and security procedures. The statement said "despite interior ministry warnings, various groups of illegal residents along with activists in Taima area attacked policemen, injuring the field operations commander and caused other damage".
Security men were compelled to use smoke and percussion grenades and water cannons to disperse them, despite attempts to convince them to present their case through official channels, yet they did not respond to the attempts to calm down. Several demonstrators were arrested," the statement said, adding the Interior Ministry will not allow anyone to compromise the country's security and attack security men while violating the law. It said "gatherings and demonstrations must meet the legal conditions according to law 65/79 which bans motorcades, demonstrations and gatherings on roads or public squares. Kuwaitis who participate in such activities will be jailed for two years or fined KD 1000 or both.
The statement said item 34 of law 31/70 amending some of the rules of the penal law said that anyone who participates in a gathering of at least five persons in a public place, with the goal of committing crimes or disturbing public security, then remains in the place after police orders to leave, will be punished by a one year jail sentence and a fine of KD 100 or both. The statement concluded by saying the Interior Ministry will be strict in dealing with any illegal gatherings or demonstrations in the future.
Bedoons have been protesting since February this year to demand Kuwaiti citizenship and also other basic rights like education and healthcare which they were deprived during a government crackdown in 2000. Bedoons insist they are Kuwaiti citizens but were deprived of nationality because of several reasons beyond their control, while the government insists that many of them do not qualify for Kuwaiti nationality because their ancestors came to Kuwait decades ago and threw their passports because they wantedto become Kuwaitis and enjoy benefits associated with nationality.
Former MPs strongly condemned the police action against the bedoon protesters, insisting that the security crackdown will only complicate the crisis. Jamaan Al-Harbash said what happened yesterday is a serious violation and such security tactics will not resolve the problem, while Askar Al-Enezi said beating the bedoon protesters will only complicate the problem. Waleed Al-Tabtabaei called for granting bedoons all basic humanitarian services immediately and then grant citizenship to those who deserve.
Six Kuwaiti political and social groups called for a vigil later today to support a solution for the bedoons and urged police to eschew violence against peaceful protests. "Believing in the just cause of the bedoons, the signatories call for speeding up the conclusion of a humanitarian and just solution for the cause of the bedoons without any delay or procrastination," the six civil society groups said in a joint statement.
Separately, the public prosecution yesterday questioned five former opposition MPs over the storming of the Assembly on Nov 16 after interrogating four other ex-MPs over the same charge and releasing them on bail.Former MPs Musallam Al-Barrak, Khaled Al-Tahous, Al-Tabtabaei and Al-Harbash were interrogated almost all night on Sunday and were released on KD 3,000 bail each. Yesterday, the public prosecution began questioning former MPs Salem Al-Namlan, Falah Al-Sawwagh, Mohammad Al-Mutair, Faisal Al-Mislem and Mubarak Al-Waalan and they were expected to be freed on a similar bail.
The former MPs were charged of instigating to storm public property, damage of public property, assaulting security men and others which were all categorically denied. Al-Barrak told reporters at the end of the questioning that the prosecution also interrogated him on what he said at a public rally and accused the interior ministry of trying to manipulate the charges.