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UPDATE 1-Kuwait MPs to quiz ministers, risking tensions

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* Standoff between elected parliament, appointed govt

* Has held up reforms, investment in oil producer

* Assembly has used questionings to force resignations (Adds details on requests, newspaper column)

KUWAIT, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Two Kuwaiti lawmakers said on Monday they were planning to question the country's oil and finance ministers over a number of alleged irregularities, a move that could reignite tensions between parliament and government.

The Gulf Arab state's elected parliament has been caught in a long-running power struggle with the appointed government, in which ruling family members hold some top posts - a standoff that has delayed reforms and investment in the oil producer.

Elections in December, the country's fifth in six years, brought in a new set of lawmakers whom many analysts expected would be more cooperative with the government.

But the news some MPs were already planning to use the assembly's limited powers to call cabinet ministers in for questioning - a tactic used in past showdowns - suggested the confrontation might be about to resurface.

MP Nawaf al-Fuzai said he had submitted a request to question Oil Minister Hani Hussein in parliament, state news agency KUNA reported.

Issues Fuzai wanted to tackle included alleged links between a partner of Kuwait's state oil group and an Israeli company and the 2008 collapse of a planned petrochemicals joint venture with Dow Chemical, as well as alleged misuse of public funds at oil refineries, the agency said.

Fuzai and another MP, Saadoun Hammad al-Otaibi, had also asked to question Finance Minister Mustafa Shamali about "suspected irregularities" in the banking sector and supervision of the central bank, KUNA said.

Earlier media reports has also said the MPs would ask whether there were plans to write off interest on bank loans taken out by Kuwaitis, a policy idea backed by several lawmakers.

Along with blocking legislation, such "grilling" sessions are one of the main ways MPs assert their influence and have in the past led to no confidence votes that can oust a minister.

Shamali, a finance ministry veteran, was forced to step down last year after a similar session and in 2011 the prime minister, a ruling family member, resigned after pressure from parliament and the street.

With its generous welfare state, Kuwait has managed to avoid the kind of upheaval seen in Arab Spring countries but the political row intensified last year when opposition lawmakers dominated parliament. Most of them boycotted December's vote.

In the run-up to that election, Kuwait saw frequent opposition street protests over changes to the voting system introduced by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Critics of the parliament say MPs have used grilling requests to settle personal scores and impress their constituencies where politicians tend to campaign on an independent platform because political parties are banned.

MPs argue they are holding ministers to account in a country where they say the government, hand-picked by the prime minister, has failed to push forward with development.

"Our parliament has become like a Turkish soap opera of thousands of episodes ... The whole Gulf is advancing and we are retreating. Thanks! Big time thanks!", a column in Kuwait Times read on Monday, reflecting exasperation public cynicism about the political standoff. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Ahmed Hagagy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130218/update-1-kuwait-mps-quiz-ministers-risking-tensions