Kuwait bans gatherings of more than 20 people amid protests

KUWAIT — Kuwait banned gatherings of more than 20 people and gave police more powers to disperse protests, local media reported on Tuesday, in an escalating standoff with the opposition ahead of the 1 December election.

Kuwait has been on edge since the emir ordered changes to the election law in a move condemned by the opposition as an attempt to undermine their chances in the vote. The opposition will boycott the poll and has called for protests.

On Sunday, security forces used tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs against thousands of demonstrators as they began marching in downtown Kuwait City to protest against the changes. At least 29 people were hurt and more than 15, including a former member of parliament, were arrested.

"Citizens are not allowed to hold a gathering of more than 20 individuals on roads or at public locations without obtaining a permit from the concerned governor," the cabinet said in a statement carried by local newspapers.

"Police are entitled to prevent or disperse any unlicensed grouping."

OPEC producer Kuwait's oil wealth and a generous welfare state have helped it avoid the kind of "Arab Spring" protests that toppled leaders elsewhere in the region, but the ruling Al Sabah family is facing an unprecedented challenge to its authority.

Since last year, the opposition has taken increasingly to the streets to air grievances. Last November, protesters stormed parliament to press the then prime minister to resign.

The emir, 83, dissolved parliament on 7 October, the latest move in a power struggle between the ruling establishment and parliament that has seen the state disband six legislatures since early 2006.

Some in the opposition want a constitutional state and for governments to be formed by majority groups in the 50-member assembly. Others have made more modest demands for the government formed by the emir to be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

Kuwait is a U.S. ally and the United States has military forces based there.

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