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Arab Revolution Spreads to Yemen, Protesters Demand Deposing the Dictator and Changing his Regime

Anti-government protests spread across Yemen

(2011-02-16)

(Reuters) -

By Mohammed Ghobari and Khaled Abdullah

SANAA (Reuters) -

Protests against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh spread across Yemen on Wednesday with hundreds of people taking to the streets of Sanaa, Aden and Taiz.

In the capital Sanaa, at least 800 protesters marched through the streets near Sanaa University despite police efforts to break up the demonstration.

"We're no weaker than Tunisians and Egyptians, and our situation is worse than theirs," said Rafea Abdullah, a Sanaa University student, referring to the "people power" revolts that ousted the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia over the last month.

Saleh, a U.S. ally against al Qaeda, has ruled the poor and fractious Arabian Peninsula State for more than 30 years.

The threat of turmoil in Yemen, struggling to quash a resurgent wing of al Qaeda and keep rebellions at bay in its north and south, pushed Saleh to say he would step down in 2013 and call for a national dialogue, that the opposition accepted.

But anti-government protests have continued for the past six days, despite often violent clashes with government loyalists.

Police in Sanaa had earlier on Wednesday been unable to block hundreds of government loyalists wielding batons and daggers from beating and chasing off protesters and journalists at the university, which has become a launchpad for protests. A Reuters journalist saw four people wounded in the melee.

After locking student protesters inside the campus, police fired shots in the air to break up the loyalist groups, who were picked up by luxury cars which sped away, a Reuters reporter said. Students later left the campus to join hundreds of anti-government protesters in the streets.

At least 500 people rallied in the agro-industrial city Taiz, south of Sanaa, and 500 or more protesters had gathered in the southern port town of Aden.

"No more marginalization of the people of Aden! No more corruption and oppression," chanted protesters there. Most demonstrators were from among the unemployed youth in Yemen, where the jobless rate is at least 35 percent.

Of the 23 million people in Yemen, which is teetering on the brink of collapse into a failed state, 40 percent live on less than $2 a day and a third suffer chronic hunger. Jobs are scarce, corruption is rife, and the population is expanding rapidly as oil and water resources are drying up.

TIPPING POINT

Protests over the past week have been smaller than in preceding weeks, when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, but demonstrators have become more strident in calling for Saleh's resignation.

Analysts say protests could reach a tipping point because they are more spontaneous and youth-led, instead of run by the opposition, which works within the existing political framework and has called for reform, not for Saleh's resignation.

Yemen's opposition has agreed to negotiate with Saleh, but many young student protesters are becoming frustrated.

"We'll keep protesting until the regime leaves," said Murad Mohammed. "We have no future under current conditions."

Analysts say any uprising in Yemen -- which neighbors Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter -- could unfold more slowly than in Egypt and Tunisia and with more bloodshed in a country where one in two people own guns.

"It's an escalation, but this country is armed to the teeth. When people get fed up enough that they escalate it to sticks, the next step is probably Molotov cocktails, then weapons," said Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at the Dubai-based INEGMA group. "We're getting close to a tipping point."

Elsewhere in Sanaa, dozens of journalists rallied outside the journalist union, protesting against what they said were targeted attacks against them for covering the demonstrations.

In southern Aden, thousands of workers at different companies protested against what they said were poor working conditions and low pay. Scattered protests led by the unemployed were also breaking out in Aden, a Reuters correspondent said.

"Protest, protest until the regime falls!" they shouted.

Saleh on Sunday canceled a trip to Washington planned for later this month, which the state news agency said was due to regional conditions.

On Tuesday, Saba news reported Saleh would open his office to Yemenis who wanted to air their grievances.

But in another sign dissent may grow, the leader of a northern Shi'ite rebel group Abdel Malek al-Houthi issued a statement encouraging protesters.

"Yemenis should take advantage of this opportunity and create serious mobilization ... which will be responsible for changing the reality and removing this criminal government."

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Yemen protests see tens of thousands of people take to the streets

Tom Finn in Sana'a guardian.co.uk,

Thursday 3 February 2011 15.48 GMT

A battle for hearts and minds took place in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a today as major demonstrations both against and in support of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime were held within a few miles of each other.

Yemen's opposition coalition went ahead with nationwide demonstrations in defiance of a plea from Saleh yesterday to freeze all planned protests, rallies and sit-ins.

Around 20,000 protesters, most of them young men, occupied three major roads around Sana'a University in some of the biggest anti-government protests Saleh has faced in his 32-year rule. Large-scale protests also took place in other cities across Yemen, including Ibb and Taiz.

"Together we fight against poverty, corruption and injustice," the protesters at Sana'a university chanted, between intermittent bursts of music and speeches delivered by opposition politicians from Yemen's Islamist, socialist and Nasserite parties.

Despite being billed as a "day of rage", the opposition protests went off peacefully. Soldiers watched from the rooftops as students wearing pink bandanas in reference to the uprising in Tunisia formed a human wall around the protesters to see off potential clashes.

"Saleh needs to form a new government," said Mohammed Al-Ashwal, the director of political affairs for Yemen's Islamic party, Islah. "We've had enough of being left on the sidelines. Let the Yemeni people decide who will rule them in clean, fair elections."

Echoing protesters in Egypt, Yemen's opposition had planned to hold their demonstrations in Tahreer, or Liberation square in the heart of the capital. Government authorities beat them to it, however, filling it with marquees and sending hundreds of tribesmen to camp out there overnight.

By morning the square was filled with thousands of middle-aged Yemeni men. Placards bearing pictures of the president were handed out to supporters and groups of men shouting pro-Saleh slogans were set off at regular intervals to parade through the streets of Sana'a.

"Saleh keeps this country from collapse," said a 70-year-old man from the southern city of Taiz, cloaked in a tattered Yemeni flag.

In a last ditch attempt to appease the protesters, Saleh announced yesterday that he would step down in 2013 and that his son Ahmed would not succeed him.

"No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," Saleh said in reference to ruling party proposals to abolish term limits which would have allowed him to run again.

Saleh's words echoed a statement he made before Yemen's last round of presidential elections in 2006.

"You are tired of me and I of you. It is time for change," Saleh told parliament in July 2005. Shortly afterwards, thousands of Yemenis protested in Sana'a, demanding the president change his mind, which he did.

"Saleh is a good man, but he is under the influence of corrupt people in his government, and he will have to change, he will have to start listening to what his people are saying," said Nasser Al-Awlaki, the father of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US born cleric who is accused of inspiring terrorist attacks against the West. "If he doesn't act soon, things will escalate. The opposition has grown much stronger, and there are thousands upon thousands of people here demanding change."

Police set up road blocks across the capital, fearing that weapons might be smuggled into the capital for the protests. There are three times as many guns as there are people in Yemen. But by mid-afternoon both protests had tailed off, neither side confronted the other, and the opposition supporters went on their way with a promise to return every Thursday until their demands were met.

"These demonstrations will continue until the government and the president come to a consensus with the people of Yemen," said Mohammed Al-Sudal, an opposition MP from the Nasserite party.

"Today's demonstrations send a loud and clear message that Yemen is a democratic country and that the people here are both safe and stable. It's now up to Yemen's political parties to reach an agreement and move forward," said Tariq Shami, the spokesman for Saleh's General People's Congress party.



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