Oman to spend $2.6 billion to satisfy protest demands

MUSCAT Sun Apr 17, 2011 1:26pm EDT

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MUSCAT (Reuters) - Oman plans to spend 1 billion rials ($2.6 billion) to "satisfy the demands" of street protesters in the Gulf Arab country who seek jobs and political reforms, state television reported on Sunday.

The government of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a U.S. ally who has ruled once-tranquil Oman for 40 years, promised the spending package following nearly two months of protests inspired by rolling Arab revolts against autocratic rule.

"Oman will spend 1 billion rials to satisfy the demands of the protesters and also for a state grant for its people," a statement from the sultan's office read on television said.

Protests in Oman have been relatively small compared to those in other Arab countries, with dozens of protesters camping out in tents near the country's quasi-parliament, the Shura Council, in the capital Muscat.

Protests have also broken out elsewhere, and up to seven people were killed in the industrial hub of Sohar, doctors said. The government said only two had died.

The demonstrations in Oman have focused on demands for better wages, jobs and an end to graft. Many protesters have demanded the state prosecute sacked ministers for corruption.

The sultan's office statement did not specify how the money would be spent, nor its source.

Gulf Arab oil producers, keen to prevent popular uprisings from taking hold in their region, launched a $20 billion aid package for protest-hit Bahrain and Oman last month.

That job-generating measure, which will give $10 billion to each country to upgrade their housing and infrastructure over 10 years, was more than had been expected.

Sultan Qaboos has already embarked on a series of changes, including sacking 12 ministers, introducing a monthly allowance for the jobless and pay rises for civil servants.

He promised in March to cede some legislative powers to the partially-elected Oman Council, an advisory body. At present, only the sultan and his cabinet can legislate and a transfer of powers has yet to be announced.

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