Army armoured vehicles drive through a residential area after Friday prayers in the northern industrial town of Sohar in Oman April 8, 2011. Heavy security prevented fresh protests after Friday prayers in the Omani city of Sohar, where protesters camped out for over a month before security forces moved them out last week. Checkpoints were set up across the northeastern industrial city with dozens of armoured vehicles blocking access to protest areas. Residents' names were checked against a list and access to mosques was restricted, while a helicopter flew overhead, witnesses said. Image Credit: Reuters

Sohar: Heavy security prevented fresh protests after Friday prayers in the Omani city of Sohar, where protesters camped out for over a month before security forces moved them out last week.

Checkpoints were set up across the northeastern industrial city with dozens of armoured vehicles blocking access to protest areas. Residents' names were checked against a list and access to mosques was restricted, while a helicopter flew overhead, witnesses said.

Demonstrations in Oman, inspired by protests that have spread across the Middle East and toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, have focused on demands for better wages, jobs and an end to corruption. Many protesters have demanded the state prosecute sacked ministers for corruption.

"Worshippers have been restricted from going to Friday prayers because of so many checkpoints," one resident said. Asked if there would be further protests in the area, he said: "I don't think so."

Another resident said: "There are at least a dozen checkpoints in Sohar, more than three times what there were last Friday."

Omani activists using emails and text messages called for a a Friday demonstration against the killing of at least one and wounding of eight others when security forces crushed a crowd of stone-throwing protesters last week. Witnesses later said that between 50 and 60 protesters were detained last week.

Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, who has ruled the once sleepy sultanate for 40 years, has embarked on a series of reforms since protests began.

He promised in March to cede some legislative powers to the partially-elected Oman Council, an advisory body. At present, only the sultan and his cabinet can legislate and a transfer of powers has yet to be announced.

The Sultan also ordered a grant of 150 rials ($375) unemployment benefit. He raised civil service pay and pensions of government employees and doubled social security allowances.

Fortified city

Sohar had turned into a fortified city on Friday with army staging a flag march in this industrial port city ahead of the anticipated trouble after the Friday prayers.

"We were not permitted to go to the terrace of our building today," a resident from Sohar told Gulf News.

“When I tried to go to the terrace, I saw army men there and they asked us to go down,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

Every strategic points in Sohar had been taken by the armoured army vehicles as well as tanks with the columns of army and special forces staging flag march in different areas.

"They are even asking everyone from staying off terraces through announcement on megaphones that the army carries,” another resident, who is close to Wokaiba Roundabout, told Gulf news.

Last Friday army had to resort to cane charge, tear gas and firing to quell a violent mob after prayers in which young Khalifa Al Alawi died.

There have been calls for protests in Sohar through various social networking sites with some saying that women and children could be used as human shield by the protesters.

The police on Thursday night claimed that they have arrested Amor Bin Khamis Al Miabali, Khalid Bin Hamad Al Badi and Khalid Bin Said Al Badi in Saham, 30-kms south of Sohar, as they were trying to enter Sohar with arms.

All the three have been charged for possessing explosives-making materials and non-firearms.

According to the security agencies the trio confessed to being in possession of the materials with the intention of making incendiary substances and bombs. The exhibits were inspected and found extremely dangerous if used for criminal purposes.

Last week the security agencies had said that they had information about some individuals buying non-firearms, ammunition and fuel with the intention of using them in riots.

They thanked citizens and residents for their co-operation which led to the arrest of the three suspects, who intended to cause arson in Sohar.

Entry in and out of Sohar was strictly monitored with security personnel carrying a list that they were checking thoroughly while going through ID cards of citizens passing through the Sohar gate.

Meanwhile, shaikhs and senior citizens of Sohar made an appeal to all the residents in Sohar to strive to keep destabilising factors at bay.

The senior citizens also discussed the recent events in Sohar and ways to convince the youth not to take part in activities or actions alien to the Omani community.

They also decided to meet regularly every Thursday until normalcy returns to Sohar in full and also convene similar meetings in the future.

At the same time, a series of SMS were being sent from unknown sources urging people to show tolerance and work for peace in Sohar at the same time asking elders to keep an eye on their young wards, especially on Friday.

The prevailing peace till late afternoon in Sohar appeared like a quite battle zone as army vehicle and army men were everywhere in this port town.

People, especially in Sohar, were keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that the Friday will pass without any untoward incident.

- With inputs from agencies