World Bulletin / News Desk
Kuwaiti opposition politicians described government efforts to change the electoral law before polls expected later this year as a "coup", and promised on Sunday to push for full parliamentary democracy in the Gulf U.S. ally.
In June Kuwait's constitutional court effectively dissolved a parliament dominated by opposition Islamists and reinstated the previous, more government-friendly assembly. The dispute deepened last week when the government decided to refer the electoral system to the constitutional court.
"The majority bloc views what is happening as a real coup by the political authority against the constitutional system, a coup aimed at seizing the rights of the nation through the constitutional court," opposition politicians said in a statement after a meeting that ended early on Sunday.
The reinstated parliament has failed to convene twice in the past two weeks to confirm a new government, increasing the chances of a new election being called. Analysts say this could be after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends next week.
The statement accused the government of dragging the judiciary into a political dispute over the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies that helped the opposition to win a majority in elections in February.
"The political authority, through the constitutional court, is trying to create a legislative vacuum that will allow it ... to have control over the legislative decision-making process with the aim of controlling ... the outcome of any future parliamentary election to monopolise power," said the statement, published on the www.alaan.cc news website.
Kuwait has long prided itself on having a fully elected legislature and lively debate - unique in a region governed by autocrats who tolerate little dissent - but the ruling al-Sabah family still holds a firm grip on state affairs.
The most important cabinet posts are held by family members and the 83-year-old emir reserves the right to dissolve parliament at will.
The opposition statement urged the supreme judicial council and the constitutional court not to hear the case. "Confronting the scheming of the authorities is the responsibility of the whole Kuwaiti people," it said.
Opposition politicians said the response to the government plans was to mobilise popular opposition and renew demands for political reforms. "The opposition bloc sees that the popular effort should ... seek to revive the constitutional emirate to achieve an elected parliamentary government," it added.
The building, dating from the early 1960s and including a shopping centre and clothing workshops, had been evacuated, but firefighters were battling the blaze inside and it was not immediately clear if there were casualties.
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