SOHAR, OMAN // Omani protesters demanding political reforms blocked roads leading to a main export port and refinery on Monday as the health minister disputed reports that six people had died in clashes the day before.
"It is only one," Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saidi said on Monday, adding that 20 people were wounded. He said police used rubber bullets, not live ammunition as some witnesses have said.
An emergency room doctor at Sohar's main state hospital had said that six people had died.
About 1,000 protesters were standing in the road on Monday to block the entrance to the industrial area of the coastal town of Sohar, which includes a port, refinery and aluminium factory.
Hundreds more were protesting at a main roundabout, angry after police opened fire on Sunday at stone-throwing protesters demanding political reforms, jobs and better pay. Protesters later burned the town's police station and two state offices.
"We have received a total of six deaths yesterday from the protests in Sohar," an emergency doctor at the state hospital in Sohar said.
Witnesses had earlier put the death toll at two. Several said police had used rubber bullets but at least one witness said they fired live ammunition.
The unrest in the northern port of Sohar, Oman's main industrial centre, was a rare outbreak of discontent in the normally sleepy sultanate.
In Sohar, a main supermarket was burning on Monday morning after being looted, witnesses said. Troops deployed around the town but were not intervening to disperse protesters.
Exports of refined oil products from Sohar's port were continuing although the flow of trucks into the port was blocked, a port spokeswoman said.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, trying to ease tensions, reshuffled his cabinet on Saturday, a week after a small protest in the capital Muscat. He has ruled for four decades, exercising absolute power. Political parties are banned.