KUWAIT CITY // Security forces used tear gas to break up multiple protests on the outskirts of the city yesterday that were staged by the country's stateless residents, witnesses said.
The protests were arranged after the Kuwait National Assembly delayed the discussion of a bill to give more rights to stateless residents, known locally as bidoons, earlier in the week.
"The demonstration was peaceful, we were only waving national flags and singing national songs," said Ahmed, a stateless resident who took part in a protest in Sulaibiya. "The police gave no warning; they fired tear gas and chased us through the alleyways with batons."
After hundreds of protesters gathered, the police attacked with rubber bullets, arrested about 20 young men and prevented the media from covering the assault, he said. A spokesman for the ministry of interior said the police and special forces disrupted protsts at three areas of the city, each with "less than 100" people, because they were illegal. He said the participants were warned not to gather.
The local press reported that some members of parliament criticised the police for their tactics and abusing the people's right to assemble; others said the protesters threatened national security.
Yousef, a bidoon who took part in a demonstration in Taima, said: "We were sitting on the ground with children and then the police threw stun grenades and tear gas at us. Some of the children were so afraid that they passed out." He said the police used rubber-coated bullets and confiscated cameras from journalists.
Hundreds of riot police, dozens of armoured vehicles and helicopters were deployed to Kuwait City's impoverished outlying districts where the protests were held after midday prayers. A third protest was organised in the southern oil city of Ahmadi.
Kuwait has around 100,000 bidoons. They complain that their status prevents them from obtaining official documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, and passports, and hinders their employment prospects. Many stateless were born in Kuwait and some families have lived in the country for generations.
Kuwaitis opposed to giving the bidoons citizenship say some of them migrated from surrounding countries illegally and are trying to pass themselves off as Kuwaiti in order to obtain the jobs and social security benefits.
The stateless clashed with police in protests last month. This week, before parliament voted to delay discussing the bill aimed at improving their rights, Adel al Saraawi, an MP, said "bidoons who have destroyed police cars" should not be given priority over Kuwaitis.