Kuwaitis hand MPs watermelons in political protest

In Kuwaiti slang, a person who lacks understanding is a watermelon: pro-democracy demonstrators say the fruit sends Kuwaiti MPs a message: that some of them are not doing their jobs.

KUWAIT CITY // Around 1,000 Kuwaitis gathered yesterday in front of Seif Palace in one of the country's largest anti-government protests.

The demonstrators called for the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Sabah, to be replaced.

The rally, organised by youth groups, is the latest twist in a long-running feud between the government's leader and his political opponents.

"We want political parties to be legal and we want the government to leave. We want a real democracy," said Tariq al Mutairi, a member of one of the youth groups that organised the protest. His group is called Kafi, Arabic for "enough."

"The prime minister isn't implementing the law or abiding by the constitution," Mr al Mutairi said.

Sheikh Nasser's critics accuse him of giving money or favours to swing elections or parliamentary votes in the government's favour; the prime minister has denied the accusations in the past.

Earlier in the day, Kafi had handed out watermelons to members of parliament entering the assembly to attend a regular session. In local parlance, a person who lacks understanding or holds an unrealistic point of view can be called a watermelon.

Mr al Mutairi said: "It sent the MPs a message: that some of them are not doing their jobs."

Some of the demonstrators want a new prime minister; others demand that the next one be chosen from outside the royal family. Some support constitutional change to prevent the appointed cabinet from taking part in parliamentary votes.

The police maintained a presence in the area that the organisers have dubbed "the Square of Change", but did not interfere with the rally.

The gathering had earlier been moved from its intended venue at another square closer to the heart of the city.

A spokesperson for another of the youth groups, the Fifth Fence, said his group is demanding "a new government with a new prime minister that has a new approach". Another member of that group said young people in Kuwait have been inspired by protests that have unfolded in other parts of the Middle East.

Pro-government MPs have accused the organisers of being tools of parliament's opposition. Several deputies attended the event, but the youth groups maintain that even though some politicians agree with their cause, they do not reciprocate the support.

The prime minister has led a fractious National Assembly since he was appointed by the emir in 2006. Five cabinets have resigned and the parliament has been dissolved three times during his term in office.

The groups said they have not yet decided how to continue with their campaign.

Mr al Mutairi said: "We're not going to stay here overnight; the first protest is to test the people's reaction. But whatever happens this is not the end, it's just the beginning."