(Reuters) - Police and demonstrators demanding political reform clashed in Oman on Sunday, killing two people, and protesters set government buildings and cars ablaze, witnesses said.
Here are some facts about Oman:
— Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world and has been ruled by the Al-Said family since 1744. It has longstanding military and political ties with the United States and Britain, but maintains an independent foreign policy. Although an oil exporter it is not a member of OPEC.
— Qaboos bin Said, 70, became Sultan in July 1970 after deposing his father in a palace coup with the aim of ending the isolation of his country, located in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula at the entrance to the Gulf, and using its oil revenue for modernization and development.
— He has absolute power and appoints the cabinet. In 1992, Qaboos allowed a parliament called Majlis Shura, whose 84 members are elected by constituents in 61 districts. But the parliament only advises and has no legislative powers.
— There is concern among the population about succession in the country, as there is no heir apparent or any clear legislation on who may be the next Sultan.
— Demonstrations in Oman are rare. In the first sign that regional unrest was spreading to the sultanate, about 200 people protested near ministries in Muscat earlier this month asking the government to tackle corruption and rising prices.
— Oman produced around 860,000 barrels of oil per day last year, most of which was exported.
— The economy grew by a faster-than-expected 6 percent in 2010 and robust crude oil prices enabled Oman to overspend on its 2010 budget, which had set expenditure at 7.18 billion rials ($18.65 billion).
— Analysts see growth slowing this year to 4.6 percent due to slower revenue growth from oil and gas.
— Over a third of the workforce is estimated to be employed in agriculture, even though it accounts for less than 2 percent of GDP. Much of the country is arid and mountainous and only 3.5 percent is available as agricultural land. Poultry, cattle, cereals, fruit and vegetables are produced and dates are the main agricultural export.
— Inflation accelerated to 4.2 percent year-on-year in December and prices rose 0.7 percent from the previous month, the fastest pace in four months, as food costs soared, data also released showed.
POPULATION: 2.7 million, 70 percent Omani nationals.
ETHNICITY: Arab, Baluchi, East African (Zanzabari), South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi).
RELIGION: Muslim 86 percent, Hindu 13 percent, other one percent.
GEOGRAPHY: 300,000 sq km (120,000 sq miles), with 1,700 km (1,060 miles) of coastline on the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Dominic Evans