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Kuwait slams parliament protests as 'unprecedented' step to 'anarchy'

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 17, 2011 -- Updated 2130 GMT (0530 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. asks that peaceful protests be respected
  • "The popular opposition will escalate," an opposition figure tells CNN
  • The protests focus on complaints of corruption, rather than the economy
  • Protesters forced their way into Parliament Wednesday night

Kuwait City (CNN) -- Kuwait's leaders met in emergency session Thursday, vowing to clamp down on violence after protesters forced their way inside Parliament.

"The adoption of such a chaotic approach by the rioters" risked the country's security and "is considered to be an unprecedented step on the path to anarchy and lawlessness," the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, said in comments quoted by state-run news agency KUNA.

The protests late Wednesday led to the injury of five police and Kuwait National Guard officers, the Interior Ministry said.

Members of the opposition vow to step up their protests.

"The popular opposition will escalate," Saad Alajmi, former minister of information and now a prominent opposition figure, told CNN. "This is a people's opposition," he added.

Alajmi called for the Parliament to dissolve.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Kuwait has a history of "political freedom and cooperation" and that it should respect peaceful protests.

Protests in Kuwait have taken place at times throughout the year, since before the Arab Spring brought about demonstrations throughout the Arab world. But the anti-corruption protests have turned more violent recently, after members of the Kuwaiti opposition saw revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and fighting between protesters and government forces in Syria.

Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah has had six previous governments brought down by opposition elements over the years. The Kuwaiti opposition is now pushing not only for the downfall of his government, but for the prime minister himself to step down. Many chanted that they want to "overthrow" him, using iconic slogans of the Arab Spring.

The emir, however, is firmly committed to keeping al-Sabah, a member of the royal family, in office.

Government representative Ali Fahad Al-Rashid warned Thursday that the country will be taking new steps against the protesters.

"The actions witnessed yesterday are unfamiliar to the Kuwaiti society and threaten the security and stability of the country's general system," he said, according to KUNA. "Therefore, national responsibility calls for stricter measures to confront this chaotic behavior."

"Democracy in this country should not be contaminated or misused to serve questionable agendas," he said. "Kuwait will not be a place for pre-planned sabotage."

The Interior Ministry said the crowd of protesters Wednesday night "brawled with the police, the National Guard and other state agencies," and property was damaged.

A witness told CNN angry protesters broke into the Parliament demanding that the prime minister step down. The witness, a Kuwaiti journalist, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Videos that appear to have been shot from cell phones and posted on YouTube show a throng of protesters at the Parliament chanting, "The people must remove the prime minister!"

One protester is also seen saying, "Leave Nasser," in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah.

Another video shows people entering the assembly building and shouting, "Let the people enter the people's assembly."

The country has no elections for the executive branch. The emir, whose position is hereditary, appoints the prime minister and the deputy prime ministers. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2009.

The prime minister's cabinet resigned in March.

The State Department's human rights report on Kuwait, published earlier this year, notes that the country has a population of 3.4 million, of whom 1.1 million are citizens. "Local observers and the press considered the May 16, 2009, parliamentary election generally free and fair. Security forces reported to civilian authorities," the report says.

"Principal human rights problems included limitations on citizens' right to change their government. There were reports of security forces abusing prisoners. Authorities limited freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion."

With an economy based mostly on its oil, Kuwait has relatively high per capita income and low unemployment. The protests have focused centrally on alleged political corruption, rather than the economy.

CNN's Rima Maktabi and Saad Abedine in Abu Dhabi and Josh Levs in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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