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      Oman Sultan Reshuffles Cabinet, Protesters Unimpressed

      Oman's Sultan Qaboos ordered a reshuffle of his Cabinet ministers Monday -- but the move did little to appease protesters.
      By Chana Ya'ar
      First Publish: 3/7/2011, 8:15 PM / Last Update: 3/7/2011, 8:21 PM

      US Dept. of Defense / Jerr

      Omani Sultan Qaboos ordered a reshuffle of his Cabinet ministers Monday, but the move did little to appease protesters after nine days of demonstrations.The sultan sacked two ministers Saturday in response to protests which left one demonstrator dead in clashes with police last week in the northern city of Sohar.

      Most of the protests have been relatively quiet, according to the AFP news service.

      But the dismissal of the two ministers was not enough to meet protesters’ demands. Demonstrations Monday in Sohar called for the sacking of more ministers for alleged corruption, and also demanded more jobs, better salaries and more representative political institutions.

      Crowds also maintained a presence outside the consultative council in the capital city of Muscat – Oman’s equivalent of a parliament, but without the same legislative authority.

      On Sunday, dozens of employees of Oman Air, the country’s national airline, staged a protest in front of the firm’s headquarters, located near Oman’s main international airport in Muscat. About 100 employees had gathered by late morning to call for improved working conditions.

      No flights were disrupted by the action, and according to the Associated Press, the airline said it was willing to talk with protesters about their calls for higher wages.

      “The Sultan of Oman has ordered a reshuffle of the Council of Ministers,” announced a television newscaster Monday on Omani national TV before reading the names of members of the new Cabinet.

      He also ordered the government to create 50,000 jobs for Omanis and to pay 150 rials ($390) a month to job seekers.

      Standard & Poor’s Rating Services has placed the Persian Gulf nation’s local and foreign currency ratings on review with an eye toward a possible downgrade due to the demonstrations. The country’s A-rated long-term and A-1 short-term local and foreign currency ratings have both been jeopardized by the recent disturbances, according to S&P. (A-1 is the agency’s second-highest short-term investment grade. A-rating is its fifth-lowest long-term investment grade.)

      “If protests were to continue, they could undermine political stability and weaken Oman’s public finances,” said Luc Marchand, a London-based analyst with S&P, in an emailed statement to the Bloomberg news service.

      The country’s Power and Water Procurement SAOC rating – an “A rating,” – was also placed on review for possible downgrade, according to the report.

      Oman has been ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said since he overthrew his father, Sultan Said bin Taymur, in a bloodless coup on July 23, 1970. The family’s Al-Busaid dynasty has ruled Oman since 1750.

      The sultanate, which has long been an ally of the United States and the UK, signed a treaty with Washington in 1980 that allowed the U.S. to stockpile heavy weapons in Omani military bases.

      Oman also shares control of the strategic Strait of Hormuz with nearby Iran – a waterway that functions as the gateway to the Persian Gulf where 40 percent of the world’s oil tankers move their cargo.