Oman army tries to disperse protests
Muscat, March 1, 2011
Omani troops fired in the air, wounding one person, when they moved in to disperse a crowd demanding jobs and political reforms near the northern port of Sohar on Tuesday, the fourth day of protests, witnesses said.
"We were about 200 to 300 people in 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 came to calm the army down."
The crowd dispersed but then regrouped at a roundabout near the port, the witnesses said, and the troops pulled back.
On Monday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to Sohar port, which exports 160,000 barrels per day of refined oil products, and protests spread to the capital Muscat.
The unrest in Sohar, Oman's main industrial centre, was a rare outbreak of discontent in the normally sleepy sultanate ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades, and follows a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.
The sultan, trying to calm tensions, on Sunday promised 50,000 jobs, unemployment benefits of $390 a month and to study widening the power of a quasi-parliamentary advisory council.
In Sohar, traffic flowed freely into the port. At the nearby Globe Roundabout, centre of the Sohar protests that have drawn up to 2,000 people over the past three days, five armoured vehicles watched the square but no protesters could be seen.
US State Department spokesman P J Crowley said on Monday "We have been in touch with the government and encouraged restraint and to resolve differences through dialogue," as demonstrations spread through the sultanate.
Sultan Qaboos, who exercises absolute power in a country where political parties are banned, shuffled his cabinet on Saturday, a week after a small protest in the capital Muscat gave the first hint that Arab discontent could reach Oman. - Reuters