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Omani government promises to address unemployment after nationwide protests

Demonstrations broke out in Muscat, Dhofar and Salalah, as Omanis railed against the lack of opportunities in the sultanate
Omani protesters in front of the ministry of manpower in Dhofar province, raising posters saying: "We raise our demand to the Sultan" (Screengrab)

The Omani government responded on Thursday to nationwide protests over unemployment by establishing a new body to help alleviate the crisis, local media reported.

Protests broke out on 1 January in Oman's capital Muscat and the provinces of Dhofar and Salalah, with crowds of men demanding the government provides more jobs.

Two journalists from Hala FM radio station were arrested while covering one of the demonstrations that was held in front of the Ministry of Manpower in Muscat.

In response, the government has announced it will establish a national centre for unemployment, which according to a statement will try solve persistent high unemployment among young Omanis.

The new centre will address both the public and private sectors, the statement said, and is expected to be launched at the end of February.

Further details have yet to be announced.

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The official unemployment rate in Oman, where nearly 2 million private sector jobs are taken by migrant workers, was 16 percent in 2017. The country has limited supplies of crude oil compared to neighbouring Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, and relies heavily on tourism, fishing and metallurgic industries.

In 2018, the government created 25,000 public sector jobs following similar protests last January. Demonstrations of this sort are uncommon in the heavily policed sultanate.

Its revenues have been hit by falling oil prices in recent years, and the Gulf country is looking to raise $6.2bn (2.4bn Omani rials) internationally and at home to finance the deficit, according to a state budget plan published on the Oman News Agency website.

The sultanate declared that it will allocate 5bn Omani rials ($13bn) in its 2019 budget for the sectors of education, health, housing and welfare, which comprise the biggest share of the budget, accounting for 39 percent of total fiscal spending, and it will increase public employees' salaries.