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KUWAIT: Kuwaiti authorities freed a prominent opposition politician on bail yesterday after charging him with insulting the ruling emir, accusations which his lawyer said were fabricated.
Musallam Al Barrak, an outspoken former member of parliament, was picked up from his home on Monday night, two weeks after a protest rally where he appealed to the Emir H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, to avoid “autocratic rule”.
Although Opec member and US ally Kuwait has avoided the kind of mass pro-democracy unrest seen in other Arab countries, tensions have mounted between the elected parliament and the government, dominated by the Al Sabah family, ahead of a December election. Police in the oil-producing Gulf state used tear gas and smoke bombs on Wednesday to disperse protesters marching on a prison where Barrak was being held, witnesses said.
Barrak’s lawyer Mohammed Abdulqader Al Jassem said the politician was released on bail of KD10,000 ($35,545), adding the charges against him were fabricated and his comments had been twisted.
Around 200 of Barrak’s supporters gathered outside the central prison on the outskirts of Kuwait City to welcome his release. The jovial crowd lifted him on their shoulders and chanted “The people want Musallam Al Barrak”.
“I trust the emir... but maybe he has received bad information from those around him,” Barrak told the crowd. Although Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some other Gulf states, the emir, who has the last say in state affairs, is considered “immune and inviolable” in the constitution.
Demonstrations about local issues often occur, but violence has been rare. On October 22 police used tear gas and baton charges to break up another demonstration, witnesses said. On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said security forces had scattered rioters who had blocked streets and assaulted police with stones and bottles, according to a statement published by the state news agency Kuna.