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Gulf states mull aid to protest-hit Oman, Bahrain

Fund aimed at helping Bahrain and Oman; Gulf finance ministers to meet Saturday; Oman denies fund proposal.

March 5, 2011 2:38 by

Gulf Arab oil producers are discussing a fund to aid Bahrain and Oman, both of which have faced anti-government protests, a Bahraini government spokesman said on Friday.

“There are discussions taking place on such a fund,” the spokesman said. He did not provide further details, nor would he discuss what the amount of money in any such fund might be.

The prospect of an aid fund has been reported by other media as protests sweeping the Arab world and led by mostly the young and unemployed have toppled the leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

In Libya a revolt has become increasingly violent and protests have spread to Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.

The Kuwait daily al-Qabas reported earlier this week that the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was working on aid packages for Bahrain and Oman, which have seen protests from thousands of nationals demanding government reform and jobs.

An Omani finance ministry official denied such a plan existed or that it would be discussed at a planned meeting of GCC finance ministers in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

The GCC ministers are scheduled to discuss a long-stalled agreement on how to share receipts within the region’s customs union.

“We are not aware of any meeting or a GCC financial allocation for some Gulf countries to deal with protesters,” the Omani official said.

A GCC official also said he was not aware of any talks about aid for Bahrain and Oman.

“It (the aid) is not on the agenda. But having a fund is an old idea, it’s not new,” the GCC official, who did not want to be named, said.

“It was a development and stability fund and it was suggested by Bahrain in the past. It was for the Gulf as a whole but it’s just a proposal,” he added.

Worried about spreading rebellions, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) plan to spend billions of dollars to improve living standards of poorer citizens.

Bahrain and Oman are small non-OPEC oil producers and need higher oil prices than oil giants such as Saudi Arabia or the UAE to replenish government finances.

Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have allocated new funds, grants and social benefits or promised new jobs and raised wages.

Several people were hurt in fighting between minority Sunni and majority Shi’ite Muslims in a town in central Bahrain on Friday, while in Oman hundreds of people staged protests.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter in Manama, Saleh Al Shaibany in Muscat and Martin Dokoupil in Dubai; editing by Michael Roddy)

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