Middle East unrest spreads to Oman
One protester killed by security forces in Omani town of Sohar, while Bahrain stages peaceful demonstration and Saudi intellectuals call on king to relinquish many powers
Riot police have clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators in the seaside town of Sohar, 120 miles (200km) northwest of the capital, Muscat. At least one person was killed as security forces fired teargas and rubber bullets.
Oman’s state-run news agency said protesters set fire to cars, houses, a police station and the governor’s residence.
It marked the first serious confrontation with protesters seeking to open up the ruling system of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The sultan has tried to quell the unrest by replacing six cabinet members and boosting the minimum wage by more than 40%.
“We want new faces in the government and we have a long list of social reforms,” said Habiba al-Hanay, a 45-year-old civil servant. Omanis are not seeking to oust the country’s ruler, al-Hanay said. “We just hope he will hear us and make changes,” she added, noting that unemployment is high and education is poor in the country, which only has one university.
Protesters have streamed through Bahrain’s diplomatic area and other sites, chanting slogans against the country’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the political crisis.
At least three processions paralysed parts of the capital, Manama, with marchers chanting: “No dialogue until the regime is gone.” Some marchers claimed more than 200 political prisoners were still being held. No violence was reported.
Bahrain is among the most politically volatile nations in the Gulf – with majority Shi’ites claiming widespread discrimination by the Sunni rulers – and was the first in the region to be hit by the demands for reform sweeping the Arab world.
Shiites, who account for about 70% of the country’s 525,000 people, have long complained of discrimination and other abuses by the Sunni dynasty that has ruled for more than two centuries.
More than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists have joined calls made on the internet for King Abdullah to enact sweeping reforms and relinquish many of his powers. Abdullah has tried to fend off the rumblings with a spending spree. His latest concession is to allow government sector workers employed under temporary contracts to be offered permanent jobs with major benefits.
It followed a slew of measures last week under a $36bn (£22bn) package including interest free loans to Saudis for needs such as marriage, starting a business or buying furniture.
A key test may come next month. Social media sites have called for protest rallies in Saudi Arabia on 11 March.
Demonstrations also are planned in Kuwait on 8 March. Last month, Kuwait politicians nearly brought down the prime minister with a no-confidence vote.