Rival groups demonstrate on Muscat streets

Demonstrators demand jobs and political reforms in fifth day of unrest in Oman
Omani army troops patrol the streets of the key industrial area of Sohar, northwest of the capital Muscat. (Getty Images)
By Reuters
Wed 02 Mar 2011 10:17 PM

Rival groups demonstrated in the

Omani capital Muscat on Wednesday, with protesters demanding

jobs and political reforms for a fifth successive day and

government supporters taking part in a long parade of cars.

Unrest broke out this week in Sohar, Oman's main industrial

centre in a rare sign of discontent in the usually tranquil Gulf

state, ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades, after

a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

Hundreds of cars packed streets in an area of the capital

housing government ministries on Wednesday, with drivers honking

horns and passengers holding up national flags and pictures of

Sultan Qaboos.

"We are happy that Sultan Qaboos has answered our requests

for reforms and I am sure more reforms will come in the next few

days," said Yaqub Bilal, a resident of Muscat taking part in the

pro-government parade.

The sultan tried to ease tension on Sunday by promising

50,000 jobs, unemployment benefits of $390 a month and to study

widening the power the quasi-parliamentary Shura Council.

Earlier on Wednesday, about 150 people gathered in a silent

protest outside the building of the Shura Council, an elected

advisory body which demonstrators want transformed into a

full-fledged parliament.

They carried placards reading "we want jobs" and "we want

freedom of the press".

"Though we see some of our requests addressed, we still need

reforms such as the removal of long-serving ministers and the

Shura Council to have legislative powers," said Rashid

al-Sakhri, an oil engineer.

As many as six people were killed in Sohar on Sunday when

police opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators after failing

to scatter them with batons and tear gas.

The U.S. State Department has said that Washington was

encouraging restraint and dialogue in Oman, strategically

located across the Gulf of Oman from US adversary Iran.

Oman has strong military and political ties with the United

States and is a small non-OPEC oil exporter.

Sultan Qaboos, who exercises absolute power in a country

where political parties are banned, gave more independence to

the public prosecutor on Tuesday and ordered the creation of an

independent consumer protection watchdog to monitor prices.

These were the latest in a series of modest steps after the

sultan reshuffled his cabinet on Saturday, a week after a small

protest in Muscat gave the first hint that Arab discontent could

reach the sultanate.

Mostly wealthy Gulf Arab countries have pledged billions of

dollars in state benefits and some offered modest reforms to

appease their populations influenced by popular unrest that has

toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and is threatening

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's hold on power.

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