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Sultan of Oman pardons people jailed for 2011 protests

DUBAI (Reuters) - Oman’s Sultan Qaboos has pardoned activists jailed for taking part in anti-government protests two years ago, media reported, his latest gesture to citizens worried about unemployment and inadequate pay.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said at Bait Al Baraka in Muscat, Oman, May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

Demonstrations erupted in parts of Oman in early 2011, following the outbreak of popular revolts in other Arab states. But unlike in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, the protests were focused on jobs and alleged corruption, rather than changing the government.

State news agency ONA gave no precise figures for those pardoned, but Gulf News, a newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said on Tuesday it covered 14 people serving prison sentences ranging from 30 months to five years.

Qaboos ordered the pardon to coincide with the anniversary of his accession to power in 1970 after he overthrew his father.

Those pardoned also included people convicted of blocking roads, obstructing police officers while doing their work and attacking government facilities, according to ONA.

“This pardon is another opportunity provided by the state to its citizens to remain loyal people who contribute to the building of their country, maintaining its achievements and being involved in blessed work and march to ensure progress, security and stability of the nation,” the agency said.

Along with the pardon, Qaboos ordered those dismissed from private and public jobs after the 2011 protests to be reinstated.

The Arabic-language Azaman newspaper also that some members of an espionage ring uncovered in 2011 were also pardoned and had gone home.

ONA said at the time that the spy ring was linked to the UAE and targeted Oman’s military and government. The UAE has denied links to any such network but the case soured relations between the two neighbors. Ties have since improved.

The Omani government sought to ease public discontent in February by announcing plans to limit the number of foreign workers and sharply raise the minimum wage for locals in a drive to increase employment of Omani citizens.

Qaboos had already pardoned some Omanis jailed for defaming the country’s ruler or taking part in protests in March.

Oman, which sits on the Strait of Hormuz through which some 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil exports passes, has also pledged to create tens of thousands of public sector jobs.

But delays in implementing the promises have left protests simmering, with some anger focused on the 72-year-old sultan.

Reporting by Sami Aboudi,; Editing by William Maclean and Raissa Kasolowsky