MUSCAT: Omani police fired tear gas on Sunday at stone-throwing protesters in the industrial city of Sohar who were demanding political reforms as regional Arab unrest spread to the Gulf sultanate, witnesses said.
"There is a big demonstration and there are clashes between protesters and police," said one witness, who gave his name only as Mohammed.
Police used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters who gathered in a main square, he said.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, trying to ease tensions in the normally sleepy Gulf Arab state, reshuffled his cabinet on Saturday, changing six ministers a week after an earlier protest in the capital Muscat calling for political reform. Witnesses said at least 1,000 protesters had gathered for a second straight day in Sohar on Sunday before clashes erupted. Protests were also taking place in the southern town of Salalah where demonstrators have been camped out since Friday near the office of a provincial governor.
After the Sohar clashes, police pulled back from the protest, but Mohammed said the crowd, some of whom were carrying petrol and matches, was making its way to a police station. Helicopters circled overhead.
Witnesses said at least eight people had been hurt in the melee, but there was no word on how seriously. Roadblocks had been set up on a main road between Sohar and Muscat, they said.
Gulf Arab countries have stepped up measures to appease their populations following popular unrest that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and is now engulfing Libya.
Last week, about 300 Omanis demanded political reforms and better pay in a peaceful protest in Muscat as unrest in other Middle East countries and North Africa turned increasingly violent.