Omani rioters block off roads to main port
Published 01/03/2011 | 05:00
Demonstrators blocked roads to a main port in northern Oman and looted a nearby supermarket yesterday.
The riots were part of a wave of protests to demand more jobs and political reform that have spread to the sultanate's capital.
A doctor said six people had been killed in clashes between stone-throwing protesters and police in the northern industrial town of Sohar.
Hundreds of protesters blocked access to an industrial area that includes the port, a refinery and aluminium factory. A port spokeswoman said exports of refined oil products of about 160,000 barrels per day from the port were unaffected.
"We want to see the benefit of our oil wealth distributed evenly," one protester yelled over a loudhailer near the port.
"We want to see a scale-down of ex-patriates in Oman so more jobs can be created for Omanis."
The unrest in Sohar 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 (€283) a month and to study widening the power of a quasi-parliamentary advisory council.
While hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads near the port, hundreds more were at the main Globe Roundabout, angry after police opened fire on Sunday at protesters.
Police fired tear gas at around 200 protesters near a police building, which demonstrators had set fire to a day earlier.
Graffiti scrawled on a statue said: "The people are hungry."
Another message read: "No to oppression of the people."
"There are no jobs, there's no freedom of opinion. The people are tired and people want money. People want to end corruption," said Ali al-Mazroui (30), who is unemployed.
"We want a change of constitution, an elected government, and ministers standing in the way of development to go," said Zakaria Mharmi, a doctor at Sultan Qaboos Hospital.
"We are also calling for the police not to repeat the violence they demonstrated on Sunday," said Mharmi, who was among around 250 protesters outside the Shura Council building.
"Protesters must be peaceful. They are not serving our cause if they are violent."