Omanis Clash with Police in Rare Jobless Protests
(Bloomberg) -- Omani security forces clashed with dozens of demonstrators who gathered in the industrial city of Sohar for the second day for rare protests against record unemployment and worsening economic conditions.
Police fired tear gas at young Omanis outside the Labor Ministry and governor’s office in the northern city, which lies some 150 km (93 miles) from the border of the United Arab Emirates, and detained several people, according to witnesses. The protesters threw stones at police.
While the protests remained relatively small, such public dissent has been rare in Oman since 2011, when a wave of anti-government uprisings swept through the Middle East toppling dictators from Tunisia to Yemen. Back then, limited demonstrations in Oman also began in Sohar, which suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the country, before spreading to other parts of the Gulf Arab nation.
Since taking power in January 2020, following the death of his long-time predecessor, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq has taken dramatic measures to bolster flagging public finances, cutting subsidies, introducing a value-added tax and even planning an income tax -- unusual in the oil-rich Gulf -- as part of medium-term plan to overhaul the economy.
Those measures have helped to restore investor confidence in Oman, which only a year ago was discussing the possibility of a bailout from its wealthier Gulf neighbors, but have been less popular at home, where unemployment reached an unprecedented 5%, according to figures compiled by the World Bank.
Government officials, including the governor of the northern Batinah province where Sohar is located, declined to comment.
Oman State TV acknowledged the protest on its Twitter account, however, and said the government was working to create new training and employment opportunities for job-seekers in both the public and private sectors and had so far disbursed jobless benefits to more than 6,000 Omanis out of a social security fund created in March last year.
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