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Tue 22 May 2007 01:49 AM

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Kuwait's ruler urges parliament to work with govt

Emir enters fray to defuse standoff which threatens to delay key legislation.

Kuwait's ruler urged parliament on Monday to cooperate more with the government, weighing in to defuse a standoff that is threatening to delay key legislation.

Kuwait's parliament, which has a history of challenging the cabinet in a region where the public has little say, has been caught in a row with the government that led to the resignation of the last cabinet in March.

Despite vows of a fresh start by the new line-up, deputies attacked Oil Minister Sheikh Ali al-Jarrah al-Sabah last week for seeking advice from a cousin who was investigated several years ago on suspicion of a role in an embezzlement case at a state oil firm.

Another parliament session ended in turmoil after deputies accused each other of misusing public funds, prompting ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to tell Speaker Jassem al-Kharafi that deputies should focus on legislating.

Kharafi met parliamentarians, saying afterwards: "I explained to the deputies his (the emir's) concerns over stabilising democracy and using dialogue to solve differences between the legislature and cabinet, and the need not to deviate from issues."

Kharafi, a former government minister, added that the emir did not question parliament's right to interrogate ministers but hoped deputies would give the new cabinet a chance to work.

The emir has the final say in politics in Kuwait but usually enters the fray only if there is a crisis. Kuwait's rulers have dissolved parliament several times since its creation in 1963.

The government is keen to diversify the economy of Kuwait, a launch pad for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, away from its dominant oil revenues and emulate the success of Gulf neighbours Dubai or Bahrain, which have become regional financial centres and popular tourist destinations.

But key projects such as a bill to slash taxes on foreign companies to attract more investors or a multi-billion project to explore Kuwait's northern oil fields are stuck in parliament.

The emir's intervention looks unlikely to ease the tensions.

"We think the oil minister's continuation in office is harmful to the oil sector. This is plain and simple," Musallam al-Barrak, a key member of the Popular Bloc, told reporters.

The oil minister, Sheikh Ali, has said he would accept any decision by parliament.

A member of the ruling family, he sparked criticism by telling the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas that he seeks advice from his relative Ali al-Khalifa al-Sabah on oil issues.

Khalifa al-Sabah, a former oil minister, was targeted by state prosecutors along with top oil officials over the alleged embezzlement of $130 million at Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. A special ministerial court dropped the case on a technicality in 2001.

Khalifa al-Sabah says he is innocent, but deputies have urged the government to push prosecutors to reopen the case.

"The minister made a mistake," said Islamist deputy Faisal al-Muslim.

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