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US Urges Oman to Show Restraint in Response to Rare Protests

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley (file)

The United States is urging Gulf ally Oman to show "restraint" and engage in dialogue in response to several days of anti-government protests that have turned violent and deadly.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday Washington "regrets" the killing of several people in the protests and has contacted the Omani government to encourage dialogue to resolve the unrest.

He says the United States also continues to engage Oman to undertake reforms that improve economic opportunities and widen public participation in a peaceful political process.

Hundreds of Omanis joined a third day of anti-government protests in the key industrial town of Sohar Monday, blocking roads around a major traffic circle and setting a supermarket on fire. The protesters are demanding more jobs, higher salaries and democratic reforms in the Gulf state, where ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said has been in power since 1970.

The rare demonstrations in the normally peaceful sultanate also spread to the capital, Muscat.

A protest in Sohar on Sunday turned violent, with demonstrators setting fire to a police station and other buildings, prompting police to fire tear gas and rubber bullets. Oman's government said one person was killed, but witnesses said several people were killed by police firing live bullets.

Sultan Qaboos announced several steps Sunday to try to ease the public desire for protests. He pledged to create 50,000 government jobs, provide a monthly benefit of $390 to the unemployed, and ordered a committee to draft proposals for boosting the power of an elected council that advises him in state affairs.

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