ABU DHABI — Oman has become the latest Gulf Cooperation Council state to struggle with violent unrest.
At least six people were killed in clashes between anti-regime protesters and security forces on Feb. 27. The clashes took place in Sohar, an oil export center located 200 kilometers of Muscat, and included looting as well as the torching of government buildings and vehicles.
"This was the first time in decades that Oman has ever seen such violence," a Western diplomat said.
Oman has been a leading ally of NATO members. Britain, France and the United Statesmaintain rights to Oman's air force bases, used to help supply the NATO stabilization campaign in Afghanistan.
Witnesses said Omani police employed helicopters to quell the protests, in which at least 30 people were injured. They said the helicopters dropped tear gas while troops fired rubber bullets toward the rioters.
"The violent incidents forced the policemen to defend themselves," the official Oman News Agency said.
Opposition sources said police employed live fire against the protesters. They said surgeons in Sohar's hospital recovered bullets that injured or killed the demonstrators.
So far, the unrest has not spread from Sohar. The demonstrators, estimated at nearly 2,000 were said to have targeted the city's mayor, police headquarters and other facilities.
Oman has long been regarded as one of the most stable GCC states. But Western diplomats reported growing opposition to Sultan Qaboos, who unlike his GCC colleagues does not have children or a clear heir.
Qaboos, the ruler of Oman since 1971, has promised to provide 50,000 jobs in 2011. He said each job would pay the equivalent of $386 per month.