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Thu 3 Mar 2011 02:38 PM

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Dutch Queen cancels Oman royal visit as unrest continues

Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands was due to travel on Monday for a three-day visit to the Sultanate

Dutch Queen cancels Oman royal visit as unrest continues
VISIT CANCELLED: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has cancelled her state visit to Oman due to the unrest there (Getty Images)

Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands has canceled a planned three-day royal visit to Oman as civil unrest continues in the Gulf state, it was confirmed late on Wednesday.

The ruling monarch in The Netherlands, Queen Beatrix was due to travel to Oman with Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima on Monday for a three-day visit to the Sultanate.

The visit was part of a trade mission including Dutch companies and government officials and was designed to help increase bilateral trade between the two countries.

“Current developments demand a lot of attention and it is therefore better that the visit be made later,” the Dutch Government Information Service reported.

The decision to postpone the visit to a later date was taken in consultation with Omani authorities. The move came following calls from the government opposition party that the trip should be postponed given the unrest in Oman and the region.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide said opposition Labour MP Frans Timmermans warned that the monarch could be unwillingly drawn into the political argument in the sultanate.

The decision came as around 200 protestors, including women, gathered at the Shura Council headquarters in Muscat on Wednesday for the fifth day in a row.

On Tuesday, Omani troops fired into the air near a port to clear protesters demanding jobs and political reforms, wounding one person in the town of Sohar, witnesses said.

"We were about 200 to 300 people on the road. The army started shooting in the air," one protester in Sohar said, declining to be named. "Many people ran. The man who was shot [had] come to calm the army down."

The crowd dispersed before regrouping again near the port in north Oman, the witnesses said, and the troops pulled back.

The unrest in Sohar, Oman's main industrial centre, was a rare outbreak of discontent in the normally tranquil Gulf state, ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades, following a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

Trying to calm tensions, the sultan on Sunday promised 50,000 jobs, unemployment benefits of $390 (240 pounds) a month and to study widening the power of a quasi-parliamentary advisory council.

In Sohar after the confrontation, traffic flowed freely into the port, which exports 160,000 barrels per day of refined oil products, despite the presence of around 150 protesters. Protesters had blocked the entrance to the port on Monday.

Omani troops had been deployed in the city beforehand but until Tuesday had refrained from intervening to stop protests.

At the nearby Globe Roundabout, centre of the Sohar protests that have drawn up to 2,000 people, five armoured vehicles watched the square but no demonstrators could be seen.

Later in the capital Muscat, about 200 people gathered in a silent protest in front of the building of the Shura Council, the elected advisory body, asking for jobs and reforms.

The carried placards reading "We want jobs," "We want higher salaries" and "We want freedom of the press," asking the council to inform the sultan about their demands.

About 2,000 people also gathered at a Muscat mosque to voice support for Sultan Qaboos and the government, blaming violence during this week's demonstrations on protesters, residents said.

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