x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sultan of Oman removes 10 ministers and office that runs economy

This is a victory for us, say leaders of protests in Oman, as three top officials depart, including the government minister overseeing security affairs.

MUSCAT // Oman's ruler yesterday dissolved the office overseeing economic affairs and removed 10 cabinet ministers, including some who held those jobs for decades.

The most dramatic change was the departure of the national economy minister, Ahmed Macki, who also ran the finance ministry. He had supervised both portfolios for two decades.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said also abolished the national economy ministry. It will be replaced by a committee picked by the government, state TV said.

On Saturday, the sultan replaced three top officials, including the government minister overseeing security affairs. A week earlier, he replaced six other ministers and promised 50,000 new civil service jobs.

Yesterday's changes are the third high-level reshuffle in the past 10 days attempting to quiet the protests.

Significantly, for the protesters calling for more jobs and political openness, four of the 10 new ministers are serving in the Shura Council assembly, whose members are elected.

"The flushing out of old corrupted ministers and some to be replaced by Shura members is top on our list of demands. We consider this as a major victory for us," said Faisal Al Ghabshi, a protester outside the Shura Council.

The protesters want the cabinet elected from the 83-member Shura Council, which is an advisory body with no legislative power. They contend that will help end corruption and give the government legitimacy.

Other cabinet casualties were the ministers of the interior, agriculture, social development, transport, housing, regional and water resources, trade, legal affairs, tourism and environment. The sultan retained the foreign affairs and the defence ministers, who both served more than two decades each.

Majid Al Abdulhameed, one of the protesters, said: "This is the first victory. Next we want a change of constitution to pave the way for ministers to be elected rather than appointed."

Protesters around the country called the changes an important step. Demonstrations have erupted in Sohar, Buraimi at the UAE border and Salalah in the south. Oman says one demonstrator has been killed in the protests.

Salah Al Jaboob, a protester from Salalah, said: "This is a serious move but we request the sultan not to stop here and get all the ministers elected next round."

About 50 protesters have been spending the night outside the Shura Council headquarters for the past week and up to 100 people still protest each day at Sohar and Salalah.

Ground staff at the state-run Oman Air, whi started a strike on Sunday for higher wages, have extended their deadline to this afternoon before, they say, all flights would be grounded. Previously they had a Monday deadline.

"We have a new deadline on Tuesday at 4pm to give the company more time. If no positive steps are taken, then we don't fly," one employee, who did not want to be identified, said.

"Today, our board of directors had a meeting with our management team and they are serious to resolve the problem," Usama Al Haremy, manager of corporate communications at Oman Air, said.

The national carrier operates more than 300 flights a week to about 40 destinations in more than 20 countries. About 100 protesters who are not the airline's staff also gathered in front of its headquarters.

sshaibany@thenational.ae