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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 May 2006, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Kuwaiti leader calls new election
Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah
Sheikh Sabah was Kuwait's foreign minister for 40 years
The emir of Kuwait has dissolved parliament and set new elections amid a growing row over electoral law reforms.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah called for the poll - originally planned for 2007 - to be held on 29 June.

Opposition lawmakers are demanding a sharp reduction in the number of voting districts, saying the move will reduce vote-buying and other irregularities.

A proposed bill was last week referred to the constitutional court - a move the opposition says will delay reforms.

It was my duty to dissolve parliament to safeguard the security of our nation
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah

Last week also saw an unprecedented request by opposition MPs to grill Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmed over the disputed bill.

Since its inception in 1962, the Kuwaiti parliament has questioned more than 30 ministers but has never done so with a premier.

'Charged situation'

"I had to take a difficult decision that I had wanted to avoid, but I concluded that it was my duty to dissolve parliament to safeguard the security of our nation," the emir said in a televised address to the nation.

"We all witnessed the charged and tension-fuelled situation that has distracted us from the rest of our priorities and practices... This was starting to threaten the security and stability of our nation," he said.

The dispute centres on the number of electoral constituencies and alleged electoral malpractice.

A government-appointed committee recently recommended that the current number of 25 constituencies be cut to 10.

But opposition MPs say the reform needs to go further, demanding the reduction to just five constituencies.

Succession crisis

MPs have no powers to vote the entire cabinet or the prime minister out of office but can declare that they are unable to co-operate with the government.

In this situation, the emir can either dismiss the premier and appoint a new cabinet, or dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

Kuwait's parliamentary elections will be the first national poll in which women in the Gulf state are allowed to vote.

The elections are expected to be held under the current electorate system of 25 constituencies.

Former Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah was named the new emir of oil-rich Kuwait in January after parliament had voted to oust his cousin, at the climax of a nine-day succession crisis.

Kuwait has developed into a key western ally in the Gulf, allowing US troops to launch the invasion of Iraq in 2003 from its territory.

The emirate controls about 10% of the world's proven oil reserves and Sheikh Sabah has played a vital role as chairman of Kuwait's Higher Petroleum Council.

Why the parliament has been dissolved

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