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Oman security staff block airport in pay protest

Sultan's concessions fail to halt further demonstrations in Gulf state

Reuters , Wednesday 16 Mar 2011
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Private security guards in Oman blocked the main airport in the Gulf Arab state on Wednesday in a demonstration to demand higher pay, witnesses said.

A string of concessions by veteran ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said have failed to halt a wave of unrest as protesters, inspired by demonstrations elsewhere in the Arab world, press political and labour demands. Between 400 and 500 security guards, who are employed by private companies, protested on the Muscat airport road.

"Our objective of this protest is for our wages to be raised," said one protester, who declined to be identified.
Police asked the protesters to disperse but there were no reports of violence.

Some travellers said they had missed their flights. "I was due to fly to Mumbai this morning but due to roadblocks I missed the flight," Raj Mehta said.

Activists have held sit-ins for weeks in front of the consultative Shura Council in Muscat, outside the governor's office in Salalah in the far south and in Sohar. They want better wages, more jobs, an elected parliament and a new constitution.

Qaboos, in power for 40 years, decided this week to cede some legislative powers to the partly elected Oman Council, an advisory body. At present, only the sultan and his cabinet can pass laws.

The government also said it would double monthly welfare payments and increase pension benefits, making Oman the latest Gulf state to offer cash incentives to stop citizens' protests inspired by those in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

On Tuesday several hundred workers at the state oil firm, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), demonstrated for higher wages at company headquarters and oil and gas fields, the first such stoppage at a Gulf energy firm since unrest swept the region.

Staff are also protesting outside firms including Oman International Bank, Oman Investment Finance Company and the government-owned Intercontinental hotel, where some guests were turned away.

This week protesters also demanded that the new police chief investigate sacked ministers for alleged corruption. Qaboos has fired 12 ministers since the protests against his rule began.

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

The ruling Gulf Arab dynasties, who have long been backed by Washington, hope the aid will help stave off demands for democratic reform by citizens looking at the dramatic changes brought about by people power elsewhere in the Arab world.

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