1 dead, 6 injured as peace march turns violent in Sohar

Protesters hurled rocks at the security forces who retaliated with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. (Muscat Daily)

Muscat - 

Three days after the pre-dawn army operations in Sohar which led to over 100 arrests, a sudden burst of violence in the city on Friday afternoon left one dead and at least six injured. A Royal Oman Police (ROP) spokesman confirmed the death and identified the victim as Khalifa al Alawi.

It was a small crowd of about 50 that initially approached the Al Wuqaiba roundabout, about 200m from the Globe roundabout at 1.30pm, just after the Friday prayers.
In a precautionary move, security forces were present in large numbers near the Wuqaiba roundabout, as at other locations, to prevent any possible violence by groups gathering near these junctions.

The people came shouting slogans of peace and holding boards asking for the release of their family and friends. Soon the numbers grew to more than 300, with people streaming in from two sides: the Juma Market  and from the direction of Sohar Plaza.

The roundabout had been blocked by army vehicles and security personnel had formed a human wall of defence against any possible attack. And 15 minutes later, as the crowds advanced closer to the anti-riot and army forces, the situation suddenly spun out of control. While reports vary on who broke the uneasy truce, an eye- witness said that in an instant the situation changed into a scene of complete mayhem.

Protesters who were coming in from the east retaliated by throwing stones at the anti-riot and army personnel who were chasing the protesters to arrest them. Warning shots were fired in the air as a group rushed towards two army soldiers who were trying to subdue a protester with batons to arrest him.

As the situation turned uglier, tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons were pressed into action, while big groups of protesters tried to charge the security forces, in a bid to help those who were caught to escape.

Though what sounded like live gunfire echoed around the area, the ROP spokesman said that only rubber bullets had been used. By 4pm, the situation was under control and the army proceeded to set up multiple checkpoints around the city.

Those arrested in the clash on Friday were from Sohar, Saham, Liwa and Shinas.

A protester who tried to take the 18 year old Khalifa, who later died, to hospital, said, "We were throwing stones at army vehicles when I spotted someone lying on the ground near a polyclinic close by. I rushed to rescue him and saw that he was shot in the leg and was also bleeding from the side of his head, just over his ear. A group gathered to help me but we got a bit delayed when heading to the hospital as army vehicles were blocking the way."

He added, "He was unconscious and bleeding heavily. When we were still about 5km away from the hospital, we couldn’t feel his pulse any more.” The protesters later claimed that they were the victims of an attack.

“We came here peacefully but we were attacked first. We just want our friends back.” They also maintained that the wrong people were arrested last Tuesday. “Their only crime is that they were at the sit-ins at the roundabouts. They are not looters and rioters.”

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