Protesters defy crackdown in Oman

Health minister says one person died in anti-government demonstrations, but hospital sources say six people were killed.

    Protesters have demanded political reforms, an end to corruption, and more employment opportunities [AFP]

    At least one person has been killed and 20 others injured in anti-government protests in Oman, the country's health minister said, but hospital workers put the death toll at six.

    The minister's statement on Monday came as protesters took to the streets for a third consecutive day in a rare public expression of dissent in the Gulf nation, setting a supermarket ablaze and clashing with police in the industrial town of Sohar, some 200km northwest of the capital, Muscat.

    Security forces have sealed off main roads into the town in an effort to isolate the unrest and keep crowds from swelling. But health minister Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Saidi said security forces had used rubber bullets, denying reports that live ammunition had been fired.

    The deaths occurred on Sunday when about 2,000 people joined demonstrations in Sohar, demanding political reforms.

    Oman, ruled by a powerful family dynasty, marks the latest flashpoint in a wave of protests which have rocked regimes and toppled rulers across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt.

    Demonstrations are rare in the country, which wraps around the southeast corner of the Arabian peninsula.

    Oman's ruler - Sultan Qaboos bin Said - is moving quickly to try to offer reforms to quell demands that include more jobs and a greater public voice in the country's affairs.

    On Sunday, he ordered 50,000 new state positions and a monthly stipend of $390 for job seekers. A day earlier, the sultan replaced six cabinet members.

    A high-level delegation also plans to travel to Sohar to meet with protesters, who on Sunday set fire to cars, a police station and the governor's residence.

    Rising living costs

    Basma al-Rajhi, an Omani political activist, told Al Jazeera that "Omanis are calling for [the government to] combat corruption and fight the rising cost of living, in addition to many other issues, [such as] raising salaries and [greater] media freedoms."

    She said that protesters had not been satisfied with government decrees, announced earlier this week, aimed at tackling these issues.

    The demonstrators in Oman, as with other protesters in the region, have emphasised their loyalty to their ruler, while voicing their dissatisfaction with his officials.

    Qaboos deposed his father in a 1970 palace coup to end the country's isolation and use its oil revenue for modernisation. He appoints the cabinet, but in 1992 introduced the elected advisory Shura Council.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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