Thousands of Kuwaitis rallied on Wednesday to demand strong action over an unprecedented graft scandal allegedly involving several MPs and called for the government to step down.
Speakers at the rally, attended by about 3,000 protesters amid tight security measures in Kuwait City, warned that failure to take corrupt officials to account could spark bigger demonstrations.
"This unprecedented crime will not pass without punishment ... If we do not force this government and its head to step down, the country will go to catastrophe," warned Islamist MP Khaled al-Sultan.
He said to know which MPs received the money, who paid the funds and its source, amid allegations by other speakers that the government paid the money to buy the votes of lawmakers to rescue the premier and other ministers.
"We are before an organised gang led by the government and the corrupt MPs," claimed outspoken opposition lawmaker Mussallam al-Barrak who vowed to reveal documents implicating senior government officials.
The public prosecutor in the OPEC state has launched an unprecedented probe into the bank accounts of about 14 MPs who allegedly have received illegal deposits estimated by the opposition at $350 million.
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Some speakers at the rally expected the number of MPs involved in the case to rise to 20 in the 50-member house.
They also demanded that the government be dismissed along with Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family and nephew of the ruler who was appointed in 2006.
"The continuity of the government of Sheikh Nasser is an insult to the Kuwaiti people," said Islamist MP Jamaan al-Harbash who warned that the opposition will continue to press until the premier is ousted.
Head of the liberal National Democratic Forum, Khaled al-Khaled, called for an end to "disputes within the ruling family," saying part of Kuwait's problems was caused by such infighting.
Corruption has been on the rise in this oil-rich Gulf state which amassed more than $200 billion of budget surpluses over the past 12 fiscal years, thanks to high crude price.
Between 2003 and 2009, the emirate slipped 31 places to 66th position on the Berlin-based Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index among 178 nations.
In 2010, however, it improved 12 places to the 54th position but still came last among the six energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.