Kuwait finance minister moves to oil in reshuffle

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KUWAIT, Oct 28 (Reuters) OPEC member Kuwait named Finance Minister Bader al-Humaidhi as oil minister in a cabinet reshuffle today, but deputies critical of his past performance threatened to oppose his appointment.

The prime minister remained in place in the long-awaited reshuffle and named finance ministry official Mustafa al-Shimali as the new finance minister, state media said.

Changes in oil minister usually have no effect on Kuwait's energy policy, which is set by a council that includes oil industry and other government officials.

But the row over Humaidhi's appointment showed that the political crisis in the Gulf Arab state, the world's seventh biggest oil exporter, was not over.

The government and parliament have been locked in a standoff for much of the year, delaying reforms such as a bill to cut tax on foreign firms and plans to explore oilfields.

One unusual move was the sacking of Justice, Endowments and Islamic Affairs Minister Abdallah al-Matuq, also under pressure from deputies for alleged failures in office.

Two Islamist deputies petitioned last week to question Matuq about newspaper reports that he had violated the constitution. His dismissal removes one cause of the discord with government.

Newspapers had predicted Humaidhi's move to the oil portfolio, vacant since Sheikh Ali al-Jarrah al-Sabah quit in June to avoid a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Sherida al-Moasherji stood down as communications minister at the same time and Health Minister Massouma al-Mubarak quit after a hospital fire in August, leaving three portfolios vacant.

In an unexpected change, Jaber Khalid Jaber al-Sabah was named Interior Minister, taking over that portfolio from Jaber Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, who remains defence minister and first deputy prime minister.

OPPOSITION TO HUMAIDHI Musallam al-Barrak, a member of the Popular Bloc in parliament, told reporters late yesterday that some deputies would oppose Humaidhi's appointment as he was already under fire for alleged failures as finance minister.

Islamist MP Dhaifallah Buramia submitted a request to question Humaidhi last week after a newspaper suggested he had made administrative and financial mistakes.

MP Jamaan al-Harbash told reporters after the announcement: ''There are some violations ... All options are open.'' Kuwait's ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who has the last say in politics, has repeatedly urged deputies and the government to work together.

Analysts say he was on the brink of dissolving parliament earlier this year because of the deadlock between the two bodies. The house convenes on Oct. 30 after a summer break.

''This is the last chance for parliament. Government and parliament should now focus on their agenda and important economic projects such as a tax and stock market law,'' said Ali al-Baghli, an analyst and former oil minister.

''I hope the fights are now over but I also think that some deputies ... might be trying to prompt new elections.'' Information Minister Abdullah al-Muhaibli will take over the endowments and Islamic affairs portfolio from Matuq and also becomes communications minister.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah becomes information minister, and Jamal al-Shehab is appointed minister of justice, labour and social affairs.

Reuters PD DB2356

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