x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Omani protesters demand that sacked ministers be investigated

Demonstrators also demand the departure of the police chief, Inspector General Malik bin Suleiman al Maamary, and a freeze on the assets of ministrrs who have been dismissed.

MUSCAT // Omani protesters yesterday demanded that all the sacked ministers be investigated for corruption and have their assets frozen. They also demanded the sacking of the police chief, Inspector General Malik bin Suleiman al Maamary.

"Former ministers must be investigated but first the central bank must freeze their assets so that they cannot repatriate any money abroad," Awadh Khalaf, a protester at the Shura Council headquarters in Muscat, said.

The protesters are expected to submit their new demands to the Shura Council on Saturday.

A local newspaper yesterday quoted the central bank executive president, Hamood bin Sangoor al Zadjali, denying an allegation from protesters that large amounts of money have been regularly transferred abroad from local banks since the unrest started.

"No unusual money transfers from the country has come to our notice," the central bank chief was quoted by Times of Oman yesterday.

On Monday, Sultan Qaboos reshuffled his cabinet, the second time in a week, with the finance and interior ministers among those he fired, responding to calls from protesters to stop widespread corruption. Five of the new ministers were picked from the Shura Council, an elected assembly that has no legislative powers and only advises the government.

Protesters said the sacked ministers could not be properly investigated unless the man currently in charge of the country's police is replaced.

Faisal Bamkhalif, a protester from the southern city of Salalah said: "No former minister will be convicted, even if they are guilty, if Maamary is still the head of the country's police. If he covered them when they were in power, I am sure he would do it now. He has to go too since most of the old ministers were his friends."

The protests, which have now reached two weeks, turned violent in the north-eastern town of Sohar on February 27 after security forces killed a demonstrator. About 50 people continue to sleep in tents at Sohar's globe roundabout, opposite a shopping mall set ablaze and looted by protesters.

Sultan Qaboos tried to ease tensions ten days ago by promising 50,000 new jobs, unemployment benefits of US$390 (Dh1,430) a month and to study widening the power of the Shura Council. The sacking of the ministers came after increased pressure from protesters to tackle corruption.

Protesters are also camped outside the Shura Council headquarters in Muscat as well in Salalah in the south.

The protests have also led to industrial action. State-run Oman Air was the first company to demand higher wages earlier this week followed by Omantel, a company in which the government holds a shareholding of 70 per cent.

An Oman Air ground services staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "The representatives of the Oman Air's staff met the board of directors and a senior management team to discuss our problem. They told us yesterday that they will increase our salaries from March but refused to say by what percentage."

About 200 Oman Air staff had a strike earlier this week, some reported sick and the rest refused to work. They threatened to halt all flights if their demands were not met.

Omantel's workers also demanded higher wages yesterday and demonstrated outside their offices but later returned to work after being promised that the government would look into their demands.

Both Omantel and Oman Air are owned by the ministry of finance, whose minister, Ahmed Macki, was among those fired on Monday.