News / Middle East

Omanis Protest for 3rd Day in Key Industrial Town

Omani nationals watch smoke rise from Lulu hypermarket in Sohar, February 28, 2011
Omani nationals watch smoke rise from Lulu hypermarket in Sohar, February 28, 2011

Protesters in northern Oman have taken to the streets for a third straight day demanding jobs and political reform.

Roads to the main port city of Sohar were blocked Monday and a supermarket was set on fire following a deadly confrontation between protesters and security forces the day before.

A doctor at the city’s hospital said six people died in Sunday's clashes, however Oman’s health minister said only one person was killed and 20 injured.

According to Faisal al-Mandri from the Oman News Agency, the protesters were throwing stones and disturbing the peace before authorities began firing tear gas and rubber bullets at them. "The police were there to make sure that there would be no riots, to ensure the demonstration would be peaceful, but those demonstrators were blocking the road and (stopping) people from going to work and the whole main road was blocked between Muscat and Sohar, so they had to be removed," al-Mandri said.

Peaceful protests also spread to other parts of the country including the capital, Muscat.

In bid to ease tensions, the ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id pledged to create 50,000 more public sector jobs and enhance unemployment benefits.

Many protesters said the measures were not enough, but al-Mandri said they are likely to significantly quell anti-government sentiment. "It should die down and the government is doing whatever it can to provide them with jobs and all these sort of things," al-Mandri said.

Recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have triggered a wave of protests across the Middle East.

Oman’s Persian Gulf neighbor Bahrain saw deadly clashes between demonstrators and riot police earlier this month.

But Christopher Davidson of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University says protesters in the Gulf are likely to have a much tougher time getting their demands met than protesters in other parts of the region. "I think it will be much more of a struggle than with Egypt and Tunisia. I think it will become a lot more difficult and these states will be very much the last bastions of the dictatorships," he said.

Over the past few years, most Gulf countries have introduced measures that allow their citizens to have somewhat of a say in government affairs, however, in all of the nations, the ruling families still have veto power.

Middle East shares tumbled on Monday as a result of the continued unrest in the region.

Dubai’s stock index dropped to its lowest level in almost seven years.

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