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Kuwait arrests opposition leader ahead of mass protest

Kuwait arrests opposition leader ahead of mass protest
Kuwaiti authorities arrested a prominent opposition figure over his criticism of the Gulf Arab state's ruler. It came days before an expected mass rally protesting against a reform, which critics say undermines opposition political forces.

Musallam al-Barrak, an ex-legislator and leader at the nationalist Popular Action Bloc was arrested late on Monday following a news conference at his house.

He is accused of criticizing the ruler of Kuwait, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, during an opposition rally on October 15, when he said the emir should avoid sliding towards “autocratic rule”. The country's constitution proclaims the emir "immune and inviolable" and thus criticizing his actions is unconstitutional.

Before his arrest, Barrak called on his supporters to turn up for a new protest rally come Sunday, saying he would be with them spiritually, if not in person.

Last week Kuwait arrested three other opposition figures on similar charges. They have been released on bail after five-day detention and are new expecting trials, which are to commence in mid-November.

Barrak lashed out at the emir over a controversial change of the electoral law ordered by the ruler ahead of the December 1 election, which critics say will hamper the opposition in the parliament.

The opposition had majority in the elected parliament after the February election, putting the legislative body at odds with the government, which is dominated by the members of the ruling al-Sabah family.

The emir disbanded the legislative body this month. Several opposition factions said they would boycott the poll taken under the new rules.

The oil-exporting country has been touched less by the public uprisings in the Arab world than some of its neighbors, partially thanks to its generous welfare system.

Still, the opposition gathered tens of thousands of people in the streets to protest against the electoral reform. Kuwait City lately saw violence, as the authorities used riot police to disperse protesting crowds.