x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Tanks used to disperse Omani demonstrators in Sohar

Protests were also reported today in Buraimi on the border with the UAE, and the southern port of Salalah , witnesses said, with demands for jobs and salary increases.

Omani forces in tanks dispersed demonstrators today who were blocking the port in the Sohar industrial city and the coastal road to the capital, Muscat, as protests erupted in other parts of the country, AFP reporters and witnesses said.

The operation went peacefully and Omani forces drove away protesters who had been keeping vigil at the Earth Roundabout, a landmark intersection in Sohar where clashes erupted Sunday, killing at least one protester.

The security forces initially pushed away protesters from the main coastal highway that links Muscat to Sohar, 200 kilometres northwest from the capital.

But protesters continued to deploy trucks blocking access from the Sohar port, Oman's second largest, to nearby aluminium and petrochemical factories, the reporter said.

Armoured vehicles deployed at the Earth Roundabout, where protesters had kept vigil for a third consecutive night.

The protesters held up signs demanding jobs and salary increases and also called for ministers whom they accuse of corruption to be put on trial. Some also waved Omani flags and carried portraits of Sultan Qaboos.

Protests were also reported today in the southern port of Salalah and the northwestern oasis region of Buraimi, witnesses said.

In Salalah some 200 people demonstrated outside the office of the governor of Dhofar province, demanding and increase in wages and benefits, while dozens of protesters staged a similar rally in Buraimi.

Members of the Majlis Ash-Shura, or Consultative Council, and intellectuals were due to hold a sit-in later this afternoon in Muscat to demand the resignation of some ministers, one of the organisers told AFP.

On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators stormed a police station in Sohar and police responded by firing tear gas, an AFP reporter said. Protesters also set fire to the governor's house and torched a shopping mall.

The state news agency ONA said rioting had begun at dawn on Saturday and continued on Sunday that several several government and privately owned cars had been torched.

There were conflicting reports on the death toll from Sunday's clashes with officials insisting that one person only was killed while protesters saying that as many as five died.

The Omani protesters insist they are not challenging the rule of Sultan Qaboos, who has been in power since 1970, but are merely calling for jobs and reform.

The violence has prompted the United States and human rights watchdog Amnesty International to call for restraint.

Amnesty urged Oman, which it said has "used excessive force", to rein in its security forces and order "an immediate independent investigation", in a statement yesterday

"The government must respect the right of people to engage in peaceful protest and ensure that they can do so without fear or threat," said Malcolm Smart, the director of the group's regional programme

In a move towards addressing the grievances of the protesters, Sultan Qaboos has announced a series of moves, including the creation of 50,000 new jobs and a monthly allowance of 150 riyals for registered job seekers.

Sultan Qaboos also ordered the formation of a ministerial committee to put together proposals to meet calls for more powers for Oman's elected consultative council.