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News, February 2011
Tens of Thousands of Yemenis Protest Against Dictatorship and Poverty
Yemen protests see tens of thousands of people take to the streets
The Guardian, February 3, 2011
Major demonstrations both against and in support of President Ali Abdullah Saleh take place in Sana'a and several other cities
Tom Finn in Sana'a guardian.co.uk, Thursday 3 February 2011 15.48 GMT Article history
An anti-government protester waves the Yemeni flag from the top of a lamppost in Sana'a Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
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.
Yemen: Tens of thousands call on president to leave
BBC, 27 January 2011, 09:48 ET
Demonstrations were led by opposition members and youth activists Continue reading the main story
Mid-East: Will there be a domino effect? Security and the collapsing state Yemen country profile
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have demonstrated in the capital Sanaa, calling on Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for 30 years, to step down.
This comes after mass protests in Egypt and a popular uprising in Tunisia that ousted its long-time leader.
Yemeni opposition members and youth activists gathered in four parts of the city, including Sanaa University, chanting anti-government slogans.
They also called for economic reforms and an end to corruption.
Yemenis complain of mounting poverty among a growing young population and frustration with a lack of political freedoms.
The country has also been plagued by a range of security issues, including a separatist movement in the south and an uprising of Shia Houthi rebels in the north.
There are fears that Yemen is becoming a leading al-Qaeda haven, with the high numbers of unemployed youths seen as potential recruits for Islamist militant groups.
'Time for change'
Protesters gathered in several locations of the city on Thursday morning, chanting that it was "time for change", and referring to the popular uprising in Tunisia that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this month.
The BBC's Frank Gardner says these are the largest demonstrations Yemen has seen for some time
Opposition MP Abdulmalik al-Qasuss, from the al-Islah (Reform) party, echoed the demands of the protesters when he addressed them.
"We gather today to demand the departure of President Saleh and his corrupt government," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Counter-protests have also been staged by the party of President Saleh, the General People's Congress.
Government supporter Saleh al-Mrani said the dissident protesters were a threat to the country's stability.
"We are against whoever wants to trouble the country's interests. All Yemeni people are against that, and we will prevent any kind of disturbance," he said.
President Saleh, a Western ally, became leader of North Yemen in 1978, and has ruled the Republic of Yemen since the north and south merged in 1990. He was last re-elected in 2006.
Yemenis are angry over parliament's attempts to loosen the rules on presidential term limits, sparking opposition concerns that Mr Saleh might try to appoint himself president for life.
Mr Saleh is also accused of wanting to hand power to his eldest son, Ahmed, who heads the elite presidential guard, but he has denied the accusations.
"We are a republic. We reject bequeathing [the presidency]," he said in a televised address on Sunday.
The editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post newspaper, Hakim al-Masmari, told the BBC World Service that Yemenis were no longer prepared to put up with widespread poverty.
He said the protests were likely to continue because people felt that "all chances of a dialogue with the ruling party are vanishing".
There have been a series of smaller protests in the lead up to Thursday's mass demonstrations.
Continue reading the main story
Economic and social problems
Poorest country in the Middle East with 40% of Yemenis living on less than $2 (£1.25) a day More than two-thirds of the population under the age of 24 Illiteracy stands at over 50%, unemployment at 35% Dwindling oil reserves and falling oil revenues; little inward investment Acute water shortage Weak central government
On Saturday, hundreds of Sanaa University students held competing protests on campus, with some calling for President Saleh to step down and others for him to remain in office.
Over the weekend, Yemeni authorities arrested prominent rights activist, Tawakul Karman, accusing her of organising the anti-government protests. Her arrest sparked further protests in Sanaa.
After her release from prison on Monday, she told CNN that there was a revolution taking place in her country inspired by Tunisia's so-called Jasmine Revolution.
Protests in Tunisia have ended 23 years of President Ben Ali's rule and ignited unrest elsewhere in the region, including Algeria and Egypt.
Middle East social indicators
Country pop. (m) median age jobless (%) below poverty line (%) internet users (m)
Source: CIA World Factbook
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