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Kuwaiti PM survives vote but crisis lingers


Kuwait's premier on Wednesday narrowly survived a parliament vote seen as a serious bid to oust him over a police crackdown, but the opposition vowed to keep up their bid to unseat him.

Twenty-five MPs voted in support of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a nephew of the oil-rich Gulf state's ruler, while 22 were against him and one abstained, speaker Jassem al-Khorafi said.

"In accordance with the constitution, parliament reaffirms its confidence and cooperation with the prime minister," Khorafi said after a three-hour session held behind closed doors.

The "non-cooperation" motion was filed on December 28 by opposition MPs who accused the premier of breaching the constitution and suppressing freedoms.

It fell short of the 25 votes needed to be passed in the 50-seat assembly, with one MP unable to vote because he is a minister and another absent outside the country.

After the vote, Kuwaiti ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, summoned the crown prince, premier and parliament speaker to a meeting, the official state KUNA news agency reported without providing details.

And leading pro-government Shiite MP Hussein al-Qallaf submitted his resignation saying lawmakers can no longer perform their duties under continued political instability.

"The body of this nation has been repeatedly stabbed. Unfortunately, these stabbings did not come from an enemy but from some of its own people, which led to instability, tension and conflicts," Qallaf said in the resignation letter.

The prime minister appealed to the opposition to end the stalemate and start a new era in which cooperation between parliament and government prevails to save the interests of the country.

The vote was the second time in just over a year that a non-cooperation motion has been defeated in the parliament of Kuwait, the OPEC oil cartel's fifth largest producer.

Opposition MPs said they would not deal with a government headed by Sheikh Nasser, a senior member of the Al-Sabah ruling family, and vowed to bring it down.

"Today is the beginning... We will continue to work to bring about the downfall of this government through the streets," opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak said after the vote.

Islamist MP Jamaan al-Harbash told reporters the "crisis will only end when this government reaches its end. "It's not possible for MPs to deal with a government that has humiliated the Kuwaiti people," Harbash said.

Opposition lawmakers had filed the motion after quizzing the premier following a crackdown by riot police to disperse a public gathering in which four MPs and a dozen people were injured on December 8.

Two leading critics are behind bars, while Kuwait has closed the office of Qatar's Al-Jazeera television network for covering the police's use of force in the December 8 gathering.

Meanwhile, after Wednesday's parliament session, authorities closed down a local satellite television station backing the opposition on charges of violating licensing procedures.

Last month, the criminal court extended the detention of Obaid al-Wasmi, a prominent academic and constitutional expert, detained on charges of undermining the emir and premier.

The government has also sent to parliament proposals to toughen laws on punishments for the media, which MPs are to discuss at a later date.

International human rights groups have criticised Kuwait for using force to prevent public gatherings by the opposition.

Kuwait, which sits on 10 percent of proven oil reserves and has assets estimated at 300 billion dollars, has been rocked with almost non-stop political conflicts since Sheikh Nasser was appointed in February 2006.

During this period, parliament was dissolved three times and fresh elections were held and Sheikh Nasser, resigned five times, stalling development projects in the process.