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Kuwait to free politician on bail after arrest for insulting emir sparks protests

Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP - Getty Images

Kuwait riot police used stun grenades and tear gas Wednesday to disperse thousands of angry demonstrators who marched on the central prison in Kuwait City, where a leading opposition figure was detained.

Kuwaiti authorities have decided to free a prominent opposition politician on bail after charging him with insulting the ruling emir, his lawyer said Thursday.

Although OPEC member Kuwait has avoided the kind of mass pro-democracy unrest seen in other Arab countries, tensions have mounted between the elected parliament and the government ahead of a December vote.

Musallam al-Barrak, an outspoken former member of parliament was picked up from his home Monday night, two weeks after a protest rally at which he made rare critical remarks directed at the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Protest broken up by police
Police in the major Gulf oil-producing state, where the government is dominated by the Al-Sabah family, used tear gas and smoke bombs on Wednesday to disperse protesters marching on a prison where Barrak was being held, witnesses said.

"He will be released in a few hours and they will tell us when the court will look into his case later on," lawyer Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem said, adding that the bail was set at 10,000 dinars ($35,545).

Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP - Getty Images

Former Kuwaiti opposition MP Musallam al-Barrak (center) waves to supporters from a police van as he is arrested outside his house in Kuwait City Monday.

Prosecutors have charged Barrak with encroaching on the pillars of the Gulf state, insulting the emir and infringing his authorities.

Demonstrations about local issues often occur in Kuwait, a U.S. ally in the region, but violence has been rare. On Oct. 22, police used tear gas and baton charges to break up another demonstration, witnesses said.

Man arrested in Kuwait for insulting Prophet Mohammad on Twitter

On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said security forces had scattered rioters who had blocked streets and assaulted police with stones and bottles, according to a statement carried by the state news agency KUNA.

It said members of special forces also were charged by drivers who tried to run them over, injuring five in two separate incidents. The ministry said it made some arrests and warned further protests would be dealt with harshly.

An activist estimates that 50,000 people gathered in Kuwait for protests over changes to the electoral law which the opposition has called a constitutional coup by the government. NBCNews.com's Katy Tur reports.

National unity
The Gulf Arab state has banned unregistered gatherings of more than 20 people on roads or in other public locations.

Kuwaiti opposition politicians, groups and their supporters plan a protest rally on Nov. 4 over changes to the election law which some have criticized as an attempt to give pro-government candidates an advantage in parliamentary elections on Dec. 1.

The government says the amendments were needed to preserve national unity.

The opposition politicians have said they will boycott the vote, the second this year. An opposition bloc, made up of Islamists, liberal and tribal lawmakers, won a majority at the last elections in February.

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