Sultan of Oman receives demands

Hundreds of people protest across Oman continuing demands for change.

MUSCAT // Sultan Qaboos bin Said yesterday received the demands of protesters who have staged rallies over the past week calling for reforms.

A spokesman for the protesters said the sultan was given their demands. A member of the Shura Council, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed the demands had reached the palace.

"We have been assured by the Shura members [on Friday] that our main demands have been received by the sultan and he is considering them," Dr Zakaria al Mharmi, a doctor working at the Sultan Qaboos Hospital and an activist, said.

Dr al Mharmi said the demands included an end to corruption, a new cabinet, amending the constitution and an investigation into the conduct of security forces at protests in Sohar.

The protests, which started on February 18, escalated to violence on Sunday in Sohar when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of protesters demanding political reforms. Doctors have said as many as six people were killed but the minister of health said only one protester had died. "We have been told by the Shura that the sultan has already ordered the prosecutor general to investigate the Sohar violence and he is considering forming a committee to study a constitution change and the changing of some cabinet members," Dr al Mharmi, said.

On Monday, protesters burned a LuLu hypermarket and blocked entrances to the industrial free zones.

Sultan Qaboos, who has absolute power in a country where there are no political parties, tried to ease tensions on Sunday by promising to create 50,000 jobs, announcing unemployment benefits of 150 Omani rials (Dh1,450) per month and agreeing to consider widening the power of the Shura Council. The 83 members of the Shura Council are elected but it has no legislative powers. Sultan Qaboos has reshuffled the cabinet but stopped short of removing long-serving ministers, who many see as the source of corruption in the country.

Hundreds of people protested across the sultanate yesterday, continuing demands for change. Protests were held in Sur, Salalah and Sohar as well as in the capital. Dr Mharmi said that the protesters, about 200 of whom were camped out at the Shura Council headquarters, would stay "as long as it takes to get the reforms done".

In the capital, supporters of Sultan Qaboos drove around the city in a long parade of cars, waving Omani flags and chanting "long live Qaboos".