Gulf states launch $20 billion fund for Oman and Bahrain

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:42 AM
Gulf states launch $20 billion fund for Oman and Bahrain

By Ulf Laessing and Cynthia Johnston

RIYADH (Reuters) - Gulf Arab oil producers launched on Thursday a $20 billion aid package for Bahrain and Oman, both of which are facing anti-government protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

The job-generating measure, which will give $10 billion to each country to upgrade their housing and infrastructure over 10 years, was above the $10 billion to $15 billion indicated by officials during discussions this week.

Foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, announced the measures after meeting in the Saudi capital.

The Arab world has been shaken by a series of popular protests, that started in Tunisia and have now reached the oil-rich Gulf region.

Bahrain, a small desert kingdom in the Persian Gulf, has been particularly hard hit as long simmering tensions within its majority Shi'ite population burst into the open.

"Dear Bahraini ... messages of unity, brotherhood and social harmony are our most powerful weapons to fight sectarian strife," Bahrain's Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said on Twitter as he announced the aid package.

Protests are planned in numerous Gulf countries on Friday, including Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Worried about spreading rebellions, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are planning to spend billions of dollars to improve the living standards of their poorer citizens and are equally anxious to put a lid on unrest in their neighbors.

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 their government finances.

(Additional reporting by Martina Fuchs in Dubai, Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Reed Stevenson)