Hundreds of Omanis demand jobs, reforms in new protests

People out on the streets again, staging protests in Muscat, Salalah and Sohar
Oman protesters cheer outside the burned house of the governor
By Reuters
Sat 05 Mar 2011 10:59 AM

Hundreds of Omanis demanding jobs and political reforms demonstrated across the Gulf Arab sultanate on Friday, staging protests from the southern port of Salalah to the northern industrial town of Sohar.

Around 200 protesters gathered in capital Muscat at the headquarters of the Shura Council, a quasi-parliamentary advisory body, where some had camped out overnight in tents.

Similar numbers demonstrated in Salalah, the eastern coastal town of Sur where Oman's liquefied natural gas export facilities are based, and Sohar where medical sources said six people were killed in clashes with security forces earlier this week.

Unrest in the normally tranquil oil-producing state, ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades, follows a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

The silent demonstrators outside the Shura Council in Muscat held placards saying, "We want an elected cabinet of ministers" and "End corruption and create jobs".

Demonstrations in other cities concentrated on jobs, salaries and government support including housing benefits, as well as demands for an investigation into the violence in Sohar.

Oman is a non-OPEC oil exporter that pumps around 850,000 barrels per day and has strong military and political ties to Washington.

Sultan Qaboos tried to ease tensions on Sunday by promising 50,000 jobs, unemployment benefits of $390 a month and to study widening the power of the Shura Council.

In the capital, his supporters drove around the city in a long parade of cars, waving Omani flags and chanting "long live Qaboos".

Police fired on stone-throwing demonstrators in the industrial town of Sohar last Sunday after failing to scatter them with batons and tear gas. Medical sources said six people were killed and at least 20 were wounded in Sohar, but Oman's health minister said only one person died.

"We want the casualties in Sohar to be investigated and those responsible be held accountable," said Rashid al-Sakhri, an oil engineer, as he stood with protesters in front of the Shura Council headquarters.

Sultan Qaboos, who exercises absolute power in a country where political parties are banned, reshuffled his cabinet last week in response to protests.

Gulf Arab countries have pledged billions of dollars in benefits as well as some modest political reforms to appease their populations following popular unrest that toppled Egypt and Tunisia's leaders.

Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the United Arab Emirate's vice president, met Sultan Qaboos on Thursday to discuss security and stability for the Gulf Arab neighbours, the UAE's state news agency said.

"(He) described as unacceptable the recent events in Oman, adding that the UAE was opposed to anything that would endanger stability and security," the Emirates News Agency said.

"The UAE will spare no effort to provide all kinds of support to its brethren in the Sultanate that will contribute to its stability, prosperity and growth," the agency said.

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