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Tue 17 Mar 2009 11:48 PM

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Crisis-hit Kuwait may suspend parliament

Parliament could be suspended for up to two years, threatening more political uncertainty, lawmakers say.

Kuwait's parliament could be suspended for up to two years, threatening more political uncertainty after the cabinet resigned over a dispute with MPs, lawmakers said on Tuesday.Speaker Jassem al-Khorafi adjourned a parliamentary session scheduled for Tuesday after informing lawmakers that the government's resignation had been accepted by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

He told reporters he was "not informed officially of any decision regarding parliament or a (new) prime minister."

Khorafi had warned at a public rally on Monday that the emirate was "passing through a dark night," and that "a dark cloud was hovering over us."

Kuwait has been rocked by a series of political crises in recent years and has also been hit hard by the world economic meltdown and the plunge in global oil prices.

Leading Islamist MP Khaled al-Sultan, among four MPs who met the emir on Sunday, said he "expects parliament to be suspended for two years... and the decision will be issued by Thursday."

Prominent liberal MP Mohammad al-Sager said there were signs that the emir could dissolve the 50-seat assembly without calling for fresh elections within 60 days as required by the constitution.

"There is plenty of talk in parliament and political circles that there is an intention to suspend parliament. I hope this is untrue," Sager told reporters.

Sheikh Sabah on Monday accepted the government's resignation and asked it to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed.

The resignation came after Islamist MPs filed three requests to grill Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the emir's nephew, over allegations of mismanagement, breach of the constitution and misuse of public funds.

If parliament - currently dominated by conservative and Islamist MPs - is suspended, legislation will be passed by decrees from the emir.

Although it has vast legislative powers and monitors the government, it cannot vote a cabinet out of office but can stage no-confidence votes against individual ministers.

Independent MP Khalaf al-Enezi said the emir has the right to suspend parliament "if he finds there is political chaos in the country."

"What is happening is the result of excessive practices by MPs who provoked the emir," he told reporters. "We feel the emir's patience has run out and signals that parliament could be suspended are very clear."

Around two dozen young Kuwaiti men and women gathered outside parliament carrying banners and shouting slogans calling for the suspension but dispersed after guards prevented them from entering the building.

Parliamentary sources told AFP that the emir could also opt to change the prime minister or dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections, as well as suspend the house.

They said the chances of reappointing Sheikh Nasser to form the new government are extremely slim. Since becoming prime minister for the first time in 2006, he has resigned five times due to political disputes with MPs.

Since embracing parliamentary democracy in 1962, the Kuwaiti assembly has been suspended twice - in 1976 for five years and then in 1986 for six years - because of strained relations between the government and MPs.

Parliament has also been dissolved and fresh elections held on three occasions since 1999, the last in March 2008.

But Islamist MP Daifallah Buramia warned that "suspending parliament will increase tension and lead the country into a dark tunnel."

Outspoken opposition lawmaker Mussallam al-Barrak said a suspension would be a "coup on the constitution."