SOHAR: Omani troops fired in the air, wounding one person, when they moved in to disperse a crowd demanding jobs and political reforms near the northern port of Sohar on Tuesday, the fourth day of protests, witnesses said.
"We were about 200 to 300 people in the road. The army started shooting in the air," one protester in Sohar said, declining to be named. "Many people ran. The man who was shot came to calm the army down."
The crowd dispersed but then regrouped at a roundabout near the port, the witnesses said, and the troops pulled back.
On Monday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to Sohar port, which exports 160,000 barrels per day of refined oil products, and protests spread to the capital Muscat.
The unrest in Sohar, Oman’s main industrial centre, was a rare outbreak of discontent in the normally sleepy sultanate ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades, and follows a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.
The sultan, trying to calm tensions, on Sunday promised 50,000 jobs, unemployment benefits of $390 a month and to study widening the power of a quasi-parliamentary advisory council.
In Sohar, traffic flowed freely into the port. At the nearby Globe Roundabout, centre of the Sohar protests that have drawn up to 2,000 people over the past three days, five armored vehicles watched the square but no protesters could be seen.
As many as six people were killed in Sohar on Sunday when police opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators after failing to disperse them with batons and tear gas. A doctor and several nurses at a state hospital said six people died but the health minister put the toll at one.
US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Monday "We have been in touch with the government and encouraged restraint and to resolve differences through dialogue," as demonstrations spread through the sultanate.
Sultan Qaboos, who exercises absolute power in a country where political parties are banned, shuffled his cabinet on Saturday, a week after a small protest in the capital Muscat gave the first hint that Arab discontent could reach Oman.
Mostly wealthy Gulf Arab countries have pledged billions of dollars in state benefits and offered modest reforms to appease their populations following popular unrest that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and is threatening Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s grip on power.
Oman is a non-OPEC oil exporter which pumps around 850,000 bpd, and has strong military and political ties to Washington.