Monday, February 28, 2011

Unrest in Oman

Ok, This is just a quick post for family and friends, to assure them that we are safe and well.
Here is a status of the situation as provided by International SOS, who are tasked with keeping us safe in an emergency, (medical and security)

Two killed, several injured as police break up pro-reform demonstration in Sohar (Revised 14.28 GMT)

At least two people on 27 February were killed and at least ten others were injured after the police fired rubber bullets at protesters in the northern city of Sohar (Al Batinah region). The incident occurred after around 1,000 demonstrators, who had assembled for the second consecutive day at the city's main square to demand political reforms, became unruly and threw stones at security personnel, while some attacked a shopping complex and attempted to storm a police station. The security forces also used batons and tear gas to quell the unrest and troops have been deployed to secure the protest site. Reports also indicate that roadblocks have been set up on a main thoroughfare linking the city with the capital Muscat, though it is unclear whether these are being manned by demonstrators or the authorities. In addition, rallies have also taken place in the southern town of Salalah (Dhofar province), where pro-reform protesters have remained encamped near the office of the provincial governor since 25 February.

Comment and Analysis

Protests are traditionally rare in Oman, where levels of discontent and anti-government sentiment have until recently been low. However, several hundred people recently rallied to demand higher wages in Muscat, and the latest developments in Sohar and Salalah underline how rising unemployment and inflation, coupled with the recent wave of protests and unrest across the region, have the potential to inspire further bouts of unrest in urban areas the coming days. While the numbers of demonstrators have so far been relatively small, recent events indicate that the security forces will not hestitate to employ tough measures to quell disturbances. In Muscat, protests are likely to occur at or in the vicinity of important government buildings in the district of ministries (Medinat Qaboos), or in the Ruwi business district.

Such gatherings are likely to remain focused on demands for economic and political reforms rather than regime change; however, the killing and injuring of demonstrators could serve to harden attitudes among some protesters, especially if the authorities refuse to offer concessions. Nevertheless, most gatherings should remain relatively small and peaceful; any unrest is likely to be swiftly contained and widespread disturbances are not anticipated. Heightened security and associated traffic restrictions in the vicinities of such gatherings can cause localised traffic disruption, especially in the event that protesters or the authorities establish roadblocks on key thoroughfares.

An estimated 300 protesters on 18 February rallied peacefully in Muscat in response to rising prices and to demand improved pay. The police did not intervene in the rally, which took place in Ruwi and lasted about an hour. Earlier, several people on 17 January gathered in Medinat Qaboos in connection with the same issues. Head of state Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Bu Saidi on 26 February reshuffled his cabinet and announced some limited reforms, including improved stipends for university students; the moves followed a salary increase for public sector workers earlier in the month. However, the demonstrators in Sohar have called for the sacking of corrupt ministers and for the 84-member Shura council, which provides only advice to the monarch, to be granted legislative powers.

Travel Advice

* Avoid all demonstrations as a routine security precaution.
* Anticipate disruption to overland journeys in Sohar and between the city and Muscat, and allow extra time to complete journeys.
* Monitor local media and our website for further updates on the situation.

Just to let you know that we are all happy and well and there is no reason to worry.