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Kuwait women protest for voting rights

Kuwait, March 7 (Reuters): Around 500 Kuwaiti activists, mostly women, demonstrated outside parliament today to demand female suffrage amidst tensions in the Gulf Arab state over a government drive to grant women political rights.

'Women's rights now,' chanted the crowd, which included women dressed in abayas, or traditional long black cloaks. Some of the demonstrators wore veils over their faces. 'Our democracy will only be complete with women,' said a placard written in Arabic. 'We are not less, you are not more. We need a balance, open the door,' said one written in English.

The crowd later attended a parliamentary session which approved a state request for a committee to speed up reviewing a bill allowing women to vote and run for parliament.

But the 50-man Assembly, in which Islamists have a powerful bloc, did not set a date to discuss the draft law.

'In all Muslim countries from Indonesia to Morocco, voting and running for office are among women's rights but we in Kuwait alone say: 'No' ... Is it possible that 1 billion Muslims are wrong and we in Kuwait are right,' lawmaker Mohammed al-Saqr said to applause from female activists in the public gallery.

Kuwait's constitution stipulates gender equality. US-allied Kuwait proposed legislation last May allowing women to vote and run in parliamentary polls after a previous attempt in 1999 was shot down by Islamist lawmakers.

Kuwaiti newspapers said Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah had threatened to dissolve parliament if it failed to approve the latest bill. At the session, lawmakers passed a municipal election law ' part of the broader bill ' without a government-proposed article to allow women to take part.

But Sheikh Sabah vowed it would make no difference. 'It has no bearing. We have big hopes the female suffrage draft will be approved,' he said after the session. Mariam al-Jassar, a retired civil servant, said Islam did not deny women's rights.

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