Oman : One more dead as looting continues in Sohar

Posted on February 28, 2011

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Looting worsens as protests turn violent in Omani city of Sohar, leaving at least two people dead

* By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief, Gulf News
* Published: 16:05 February 28, 2011
Sohar: An Omani citizen succumbed to his injury at the New Sohar Hospital, taking the number of death to two after protesters turned violent in Sohar on Sunday in this port city north of Muscat.

Reuters reported six dead, but the ministry said only two died.

The first impression of lawlessness was evident when this correspondent came to Sohar this afternoon as people, including some expatriates were carting away goods from the biggest hypermarket in town that was set on fire just around midnight on Sunday.

“People just barged in and ransacked the hypermarket including elevators inside and even looted two jewelery shops and money exchange as there was no one to stop them,” said an eye witness, who even took some pictures.

A source said that there were attempts made to take away the safe at the money exchange but it was too heavy and could not even be broken. “But exchange has lost all the documents and some incomplete transactions,” the source said.

The same source said that there were attempts to break open an ATM with sledgehammer at the hypermarket.

“I was chased by an Omani for taking pictures,” said an expatriate who tried to take pictures of the arson. He added that all the while fire brigade personnel were busy dousing the fire. Even today after noon, the hypermarket continued to smoulder.

The hypermarket is located at the Globe Roundabout where some 100-odd protesters continue to camp. The local grapevine suggested that some of the government representatives, including senior ministers are expected to visit the protest site and hold talks with the protesters.

Some Omanis were seen guarding some of the stores as Sohar residents believe that ‘outsiders’ were causing most of the violent trouble.

“Places like hospital, big stores or banks are now being guarded prominent Sohar citizens so that trouble makers don’t target them,” a doctor in Sohar told Gulf News on the condition of anonymity.

One long-time expatriate in Sohar lamented that people looted the hypermarket and even some expatriates joined in to take home goods loaded in hypermarket trolleys.

Gulf News correspondent saw a few blue collar workers happily carting a trolley full of goods with them and went unchallenged.

Though not officially made public, people in Sohar say that instructions to security agencies not to take any action also prompted some vandals to indulge in arson and looting.

However, screening of people entering Sohar from Muscat side is tight at the Sohar Gate. A number of armoured vehicles are stationed with heavily armed security guards manning the gate. The security guards were courteous when this correspondent passed and didn’t stop for checks but some other cars were stopped and occupants were questioned.

The road to Sohar Refinery has been sealed off completely. “Those who went for night shift are still inside and cannot come out,” an expatriate, whose friend is stuck inside, told Gulf News.

There is calm in Sohar at the moment but a resident cynically commented: “is this the calm before the storm at night.”

“The government has shown great restraint and even accepted some of the demands, it is time the protesters show some sanity and refrain from indulging in arson that doesn’t go well with the Omani culture,” a resident said in a painful tone.

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