Two protesters are killed in clashes with police in Yemen
Social media help spread the call for president’s ouster
SANAA, Yemen — Police opened fire on protesters during clashes in a southern Yemeni port yesterday, killing two people, in the first known deaths in six days of demonstrations across the country’s biggest cities, demanding the ouster of the president, a key US ally in battling Al Qaeda.
Around 2,000 police flooded the streets of the capital, Sanaa, trying to halt protests. Firing in the air, police locked the gates of Sanaa University with chains to prevent thousands of protesting students inside from marching out to join crowds demonstrating elsewhere in the city, witnesses said.
A call spread via Facebook and Twitter, urging Yemenis to join a series of “One Million People’’ rallies on a “Friday of Rage’’ in all Yemeni cities, demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 32 years.
“We will remain in the streets until the regime’s departure,’’ according to a statement posted on Facebook. Copies signed by a group called the Feb. 24 Movement were distributed among youth via e-mail. The group is taking that name because organizers hope to have their biggest protest on that day next week.
Taking inspiration from the toppling of autocratic leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, the protesters are demanding political reforms and Saleh’s resignation, complaining of poverty, unemployment, and corruption in the Arab world’s most impoverished nation.
Saleh has tried to defuse protesters’ anger amid the unprecedented street demonstrations by saying that he will not run for another term in 2013, and that he will not seek to set up his son, Ahmed, to succeed him in the conflict-ridden nation.
Protesters still chanted slogans against the president’s son yesterday.
Saleh has become a key US partner in battling Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s offshoot in Yemen. The group’s several hundred fighters have battled Saleh’s US-backed forces and have been linked to attacks beyond Yemen’s borders, including the failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009. The US military plans a $75 million training program with Yemen’s counterterrorism unit to expand its size and capabilities in the nation’s mountainous terrain.
It is a difficult balancing act for Saleh, who has been criticized as being too close to the United States.
Yemeni state TV reported that Saleh has been holding meetings since Sunday with heads of tribes to prevent them from joining the antigovernment protests. He met yesterday with the Supreme Defense Council to discuss developments in the country.
Government supporters massed outside Sanaa University during yesterday’s protests, waving pictures of Saleh. Some threw stones at the protesters inside, as police tried to keep them away from the university gates. Four people were hurt in scuffles, witnesses said.
Demonstrations by thousands shouting, “Down with Ali Abdullah Saleh,’’ also took place in Taiz, Yemen’s second-largest city, and the southern port of Aden.
Riot police in Aden fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas in fierce clashes with thousands of demonstrators. Two protesters, including a 23-year-old shot in the head, were killed, a security officer said.
Twenty others were wounded, at least one seriously, according to a medical official, who like the security officer spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The protesters, who included students and workers, set tires ablaze in Aden’s Mansoura district, witnesses said. Heavy gunfire rattled residents. Protests also erupted in Aden’s most populated district, Sheikh Othman, and another section of the city.
As some protesters marched toward the city center, armored vehicles blocked entry points to Crater, Aden’s ancient historic port district built in the crater of an extinct volcano on a peninsula off the mainland.
In central Taiz, about 270 miles south of Sanaa, protesters have been camping in Safir Square, saying they will not leave until Saleh steps down. As in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, protesters have organized a makeshift camp in the city center, with medical teams, cleaning crews, and security to protect them from outside attacks, said Ghazi al-Samie, a lawyer and activist.
Meanwhile, yesterday, suspected Al Qaeda gunmen assassinated the deputy head of political security in the town of al-Shiher in eastern Hadramawt Province, a security official said.
In the town of Lawder in the southern province of Abyan, a security convoy was attacked by two men on motorcycles, leaving one soldier killed and three others injured, another security official said.