Kuwait parliament passes COVID-19 relief bill after govt takes oath

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Kuwait’s parliament approved laws guaranteeing bank loans for businesses hit by the COVID-19 pandemic after the government took its oath of office on Tuesday, but rejected an amnesty pardoning people charged with storming parliament in 2011.

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Dozens of protesters and lawmakers gathered outside parliament in a sign of lingering tensions after a months-long standoff between the elected assembly and the appointed prime minister.

Only 33 of 50 members of parliament attended the session, the number required for a quorum.

In its first session since Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al Sabah suspended it for a month, parliament approved a draft law to end pre-trial detention in freedom of speech cases and sent it for government approval, the assembly said.

In addition to passing draft bills guaranteeing local bank loans for small and medium businesses affected by the pandemic, it approved a law deferring loan payments for citizens for six months.

But parliament rejected “in principle” proposals for an amnesty law that included pardoning people charged with storming parliament, including former parliamentarians in self-exile abroad.

After December elections, a majority of lawmakers backed a motion to question Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid Al Sabah on various issues, including his choice of ministers.

The cabinet responded by resigning, and Sheikh Sabah named a new cabinet this month.

Tensions remain high after Kuwait’s constitutional court this month nullified the membership of opposition lawmaker Bader al-Dahoum. Dahoum, who was among protesters outside parliament, was one of two lawmakers who filed a new request to question the premier.

A government priority now is to push through a debt law allowing Kuwait to tap international markets to strengthen finances hit by low oil prices and the pandemic.

Kuwait’s parliament has the power to block legislation and question members of government, in which senior posts are held by ruling family members.

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