Oman protesters set up camp in Muscat govt district

MUSCAT Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:07pm IST

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MUSCAT (Reuters) - About 100 Omani demonstrators set up tents on Tuesday in a district of the capital housing the main government ministries, demanding political reform.

Protests against autocratic rulers sweeping the region have not spared conservative and usually tranquil Oman at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula whose Gulf Arab dynasty has long been backed by Washington.

In power for 40 years, Sultan Qaboos this month began moves to cede some legislative powers to the partially elected Oman Council, which is so far only an advisory body. At present, only the sultan and his cabinet can legislate.

The government also said it would double monthly welfare payments and increase pension benefits. But workers at many public and private companies have continued to stage sit-ins and strikes over wages, including at two refineries on Sunday.

The camp in Al Khuwair is the second in the capital. Several weeks ago prostesters set up tents outside parliament. Activists are also camped out nightly in tents in front of the governor's office in Salalah in the far south and in Sohar where at least one person died in protests and clashes with police last month.

"The new appointed ministers can't miss us here. We hope some of them to step out from their offices to have discussions with us," said Ahmed Al Zadjali, an unemployed protester.

Huge placards will greet ministers when they drive into the zone: "We are still waiting for the jobs," "Get rid of corruption", and "All officials must be accountable".

Qaboos has ordered a salary hike of up to 100 rials ($260) a month from April 1 for civil servants, including the security forces, but protesters say the private sector has been ignored.

"Nothing for the private sector so far, apart from the unemployment benefit. The people in these government buildings are benefitting from the demonstrations," said Yacoub Al Mawli, a receptionist at the Rusayl Industry Zone in Muscat.

Wealthy Gulf Arab oil producers launched a $20 billion aid package this month for their less prosperous neighbours Oman and Bahrain -- a job-generating measure that should enable the two countries to upgrade their housing and infrastructure.

(Editing by Andrew Hammond and Louise Ireland)

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