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Emir Ousted, Kuwaiti PM Named Ruler

Parliament speaker Jassem al-Kharafi, right, talks to reporters after a closed-doors parliament session in which the country's leadership crisis was resolved in Kuwait City Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006.
AP
The Kuwait Cabinet moved swiftly Tuesday night to fill the country's leadership void, naming its prime minister to take over as emir, the country's top ruler, just hours after the ailing former emir was ousted by parliament, the justice minister said.

In removing Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah as emir in an unanimous vote earlier in the day, the parliament had handed temporary power to the government of Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the prime minister and half brother of the longtime ruler of the country who died Jan. 15, setting in motion an unprecedented leadership crisis.

Justice Minister Ahmed Baqer said the Cabinet meeting to name the new emir took place in Sheik Sabah's residence. He left the meeting room when his ministers took their, Baqer said.

The appointment of Sheik Sabah, the country's de facto leader for several years, was widely expected and now goes to parliament for approval. He has broad support in the legislature, which needs only a simply majority vote to sanction the appointment.

"The emir remains in the hearts of all Kuwaiti people. We all love, appreciate and respect him, but this is God's will. We can only wish him a quick recovery," al-Kharafi said.

Legislator Mohammed Jassem al-Saqr said Tuesday was a "black day in Kuwait's political history," but one that also proved the country's commitment to its constitution.

"I don't think there is any other Third World state that has shown the respect for constitution and law that we have displayed today. We have proved that we are a civilized people," he said.

Sheik Sabah, a half-brother of the emir who died on Jan. 15, had been widely expected in recent days to ascend to the throne. That was expected to happen in the coming hours or days after he was formally named crown prince, a necessary step under Kuwait's law of succession.

Al-Kharafi acknowledged divisions within the royal family over the move to depose the emir, but denied there had been a leadership crisis.

"We take pride in having followed all our constitutional procedures," al-Kharafi said. "In spite of our differences, the spirit of brotherhood prevailed."

Sheik Saad was removed from power only nine days after the death of his distant cousin and longtime Kuwaiti leader, Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah. After that, an unprecedented quarrel broke out within the royal family over the new emir's ability to rule because of his poor health.

The largest bloc inside the family was believed to back the emir's ouster and his replacement by Sheik Sabah, the prime minister.

Sheik Saad had not managed to name a crown prince, a move he is obliged to make within a year of becoming emir.

Kuwaitis had been expecting Sheik Saad's abdication to be announced early Tuesday, but they had to wait until the late afternoon for the parliament to settle the issue. During the day, the assembly twice postponed a debate on the Cabinet's request to depose the emir to give the royal family more time.

On Monday night, lawmaker Nasser al-Saneh and a government official said the royal family had agreed the emir would step down in favor of the prime minister.

The official said the abdication would take place Tuesday, and would spare the country "a lot of complications."

While many members of the family had pushed for Sheik Sabah to take over, others had objected. Key among them was Sheik Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, chief of the national guard and the oldest member of the family. His status of family elder lent weight to his objection.

Parliament had scheduled a swearing-in ceremony for Sheik Saad on Tuesday evening. Many Kuwaitis voiced fears Sheik Saad would be unable to recite the oath of office stipulated by the constitution. Since he succeeded, Sheik Saad had appeared only in a wheelchair and had not spoken in public.

Sheik Sabah has been running the day-to-day affairs of the country since the late emir and the then-crown prince, Sheik Saad, both fell ill.

Sheik Jaber suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2001, and Sheik Saad's health started to deteriorate after he was treated for a bleeding colon in 1997.

Both Sheik Saad and Sheik Sabah are in their mid-70s, their exact ages are not known, but Sheik Sabah is the more fit of the two. He had a heart pacemaker implanted but otherwise is said to be in good health

The leadership crisis began coming to a head on Friday when scores of ruling family members visited Sheik Sabah at his residence and asked him to take charge of the country. He accepted the draft, which was widely seen as approval of his becoming emir to replace Sheik Saad.

The deposed emir is the son of Abdullah Al Salem Al Sabah, who is known as the "father of democracy" and the founder of modern Kuwait.