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Omanis Protest for 3rd Day in Key Industrial Town

VOA News February 28, 2011

Hundreds of Omanis have joined a third day of anti-government protests in a key industrial town where security forces engaged in a deadly street battle with demonstrators a day earlier.

The anti-government protesters gathered at a major traffic circle in the northwestern coastal town of Sohar Monday, blocking roads and setting fire to a supermarket. The activists are demanding more jobs, higher salaries and democratic reforms in the Gulf state, where absolute ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said has been in power since 1970.

Many protesters were angry that Omani police had opened fire at hundreds of people who demonstrated in the town Sunday, killing at least one person.

Oman's health minister says only one protester was killed Sunday when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who set fire to a police station and other buildings. Witnesses say at least two people were killed by police firing live bullets.

Anti-government protests are rare in Oman, which is the latest Arab nation to be hit by a wave of pro-democracy uprisings that have ousted the autocratic leaders of Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks.

Sultan Qaboos has announced several steps in recent days to try to ease the public desire for protests. On Sunday, he pledged to create 50,000 government jobs and provide a monthly jobless benefit of $390 to help the unemployed. Sultan Qaboos also ordered a committee to draft proposals for boosting the power of an elected council that advises him in state affairs.

In another step Saturday, the Omani ruler announced a reshuffle of his Cabinet.

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