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
"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
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
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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