Wed, Mar 09, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Sultan of Oman orders a major Cabinet reshuffle

AFP, MUSCAT

Sultan Qaboos of Oman sacked his economy and interior ministers in a major Cabinet reshuffle on Monday after weeks of anti-government protests in the strategic Gulf state, state television said.

“The sultan of Oman has ordered a reshuffle of the council of ministers,” a television announcer said, before reading the names of members of the reshaped Cabinet.

Economy minister Ahmad bin Abdel Nabi Mekki and interior minister Saud bin Ibrahim al-Busaidi were the biggest heads to roll, along with trade and industry minister Maqbool bin Ali bin Sultan.

Mekki’s ministry was abolished altogether, while Busaidi was replaced by civil service minister Faisal bin Said al-Busaidi, the -official ONA news agency said.

The reshuffle had been -expected after Sultan Qaboos on Saturday sacked two ministers in response to protesters’ grievances, which include corruption and the slow pace of democratic reform.

KILLED

At least one protester was killed in clashes with police in the northern industrial city of Sohar last week, but Oman has been largely spared the violence that has gripped other Arab states including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

A peaceful sit-in at a roundabout in Sohar entered its ninth day on Monday with activists demanding the sacking of Mekki and Sultan among others.

One of the protesters, Ali Habib, said the reshuffle was not enough and corrupt ministers needed to face prosecution.

“We want corrupt officials to be brought to justice and put under house arrest,” he said.

Demonstrators had “no problems” with Sultan Qaboos himself, but intended to escalate their protests with a general strike yesterday, he said.

Another crowd has maintained a sit-in outside the seat of the elected consultative council in the capital Muscat, demanding that it be given greater powers.

US RESPONSE

Washington welcomed the reforms adopted by the authorities in Oman, a key Western ally on the strategic Strait of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass.

“We are encouraged by the recent steps toward reform taken by the government of Oman,” US Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. “And we strongly encourage the government to continue to implement reforms that increase economic opportunity and move toward greater inclusion and participation in the political process.”

The sultan earlier announced the creation of 50,000 new jobs, a monthly allowance of 150 riyals (US$390) for registered job seekers and hiked the minimum wage for nationals working in the private sector from US$364 to US$520.

Thousands have lined up at government offices across Oman to register for jobs with the police and army, as well as in the private sector, a correspondent said.

At a meeting of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, regional foreign ministers expressed strong support for the Omani government.

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