Protests Spread to Oman, Turn Violent

Demonstrators set fire to buildings and blocked access to a port road in a key industrial center

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Protesters in Oman have set cars, homes, a police station, and a supermarket on fire in a third day of protests. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, ruler since 1970, has tried to mollify demonstrators--who are demanding more jobs--by hiring 50,000 new government employees and offering $390 a month in unemployment insurance. Qaboos has also fired six members of his cabinet, but protesters aren't satisfied and want more power in parliament, the Christian Science Monitor's Tom A. Peter reports.

Rallies were most violent Monday in the port city of Sohar, with some reports indicating police used lived ammo and as many as six deaths. Protesters blocked a road leading to the city's port, saying they want oil wealth more equitably distributed to the citizens, Reuters reports. More peaceful rallies happened elsewhere, including in front of a government building in Muscat.

It's tough to say whether Qaboos can hold on, Brian Whitaker writes at Al Bab. So far, it looks like protesters only want reform, not the overthrow of the sultan. But that could change, especially given that Qaboos' "attitude appears patronising and complacent--suggesting that, like Ben Ali and Mubarak before him, he doesn't really comprehend the magnitude of the problem. As in Tunisia, the Omani regime has been able to maintain control because people are nervous about stepping out of line, but it is doubtful whether the security forces would be capable of handling mass civil disobedience if the fear barrier is broken. In that respect, Suhar may be the key place to watch, since it is Oman's main industrial centre."

And for those folks watching the oil implications: Though it has less oil than its neighbors, together with Iran, Oman controls the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 40 percent of the world's oil tankers pass through.

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