Yemeni Protests Turn Violent



SAN’A, Yemen—A small anti-government protest turned violent in the Yemeni capital Saturday, according to eyewitnesses, with demonstrators—emboldened by Friday’s massive protests in Egypt—clashing with security forces.

At least nine protesters were set upon by police with batons when security forces blocked up to a hundred demonstrators as they attempted to march to the Egyptian Embassy here, in a show of solidarity with protesters in Egypt, according to eyewitnesses.

It was the first instance of reported violence during a recent bout of protests in Yemen, which started earlier this month in the wake of anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia that eventually ended the long rule of that North African country’s autocratic ruler.

Witnesses also said prominent human-rights activist Abdul Hadi al-Azazi was arrested in the march on Saturday.

A Yemeni governmental spokesperson, Tareq Al-Shami, said: “Security forces were not involved, but because protesters were both pro-government and anti-government, clashes could have taken place among them, with security forces out of the picture.”

When told that eyewitnesses saw security forces attack protesters, he said: “Security forces were given strict orders not to attack anyone. At times, opposition protesters verbally harass security forces, but even then, the forces do not attack civilians.”

Elsewhere in San’a, streets were calm on Saturday. Soldiers peacefully patrolled the campus of the University of San’a, often the scene of anti-government demonstrations. Vehicles with water cannons were stationed at the main gates.

The march, which wasn’t called by the opposition itself but rather by supporters of the opposition, was very small compared with other recent demonstrations in the capital. On Thursday, about 100,000 people took part in anti-government marches called by the opposition. Those demonstrations went off peacefully.

In addition to the recent ouster of Tunisia’s president, Yemeni protesters have been inspired by the mass protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Friday saw fierce clashes and the deployment of the army on the streets of Egypt’s major cities. Clashes continued across Egypt on Saturday.

The government of longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has scrambled to contain the popular discontent. But as in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters in Yemen continued to demand on Saturday that he step down.

“We will not stop protesting, even if we are harassed or attacked. We are demanding that President Saleh step down from rule, or his fate will be the same as that of the Tunisian president, and soon of the Egyptian president,” said Salah Mohammed Al-Maktari, a protester who said he was attacked by security forces.

Saturday’s protest involved members of the Yemeni parliament, journalists and activists seeking political reform. They gathered early in the morning at the headquarters of the local journalists’ syndicate before attempting to march on the Egyptian Embassy.

“We will stand next to our Egyptian brothers. Your problem is our problem as well,” the protesters chanted. They urged Mr. Saleh to step down, shouting: “Leave while there is still a chance.”

Yemen has a vibrant political culture, but since the reunification of the northern and southern parts of the country, after a brutal civil war in the 1980s, Mr. Saleh has sidelined opposition groups and placed his relatives and close allies in key military and political posts. He has often cited security issues as a reason for delays to political reform. His government is battling a separatist movement in the south, a rebel group in the north and well-trained al Qaeda cells active in many of Yemen’s provinces.

Unlike Egypt’s opposition, which has been hobbled in its reform movement by internal squabbles, Yemen’s political groups have a history of showing a united front against the country’s leader. For much of the past two years, they have participated in “national dialogues” with Mr. Saleh’s party in an attempt to forge a power-sharing agreement. Mr. Saleh called off those talks in the late autumn. In a bid to ease tensions, Mr. Saleh on Friday called on the opposition parties to reopen the dialogue with the government.

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