Cleric calls for Islamic state as Yemeni protesters take to streets

Wed, Mar 2, 2011, 00:00

THOUSANDS OF anti-government demonstrators once again took to the streets of Sana’a yesterday as a controversial cleric listed as a terrorist by the US addressed protesters calling for an Islamic state to replace Yemen’s troubled government.

Influential Yemeni academic and politician Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani called for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, claiming: “An Islamic state is coming.” Since 2004 labelled a “specially designated global terrorist” by the US over links with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, he received a mixed reception from the 8,000-strong crowd.

Mr Saleh “came to power by force, stayed in power by force and the only way to get rid of him is through the force of the people”, Mr Zindani said. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how many lives, the regime will fall.”

The cleric’s comments came as Mr Saleh made a surprisingly anti-American speech, blaming the US and Israel for the spreading unrest across the Arab world.

“From Tunis to the Sultanate of Oman,” said the president, the wave of uprisings have been “managed by Tel Aviv and under the supervision of Washington”.

Mr Saleh has relied heavily on US support during his 32 years in power. Last month, Washington pledged an extra $75 million (€54.5 million) to double the US-trained Yemeni counter-terrorism unit in a bid to aid the fight against Yemen’s al-Qaeda insurgency. Last year, Mr Saleh received $150 million in military aid alone from the US.

Tuesday’s demonstrations were backed for the first time by the coalition of political opposition parties, the JMP, following their rejection on Monday of the president’s offer to form a unity government.

The anti-government encampment outside Sana’a University has steadily grown since the first tent was pitched 10 days ago. At least a thousand demonstrators are now permanently camping out on the streets.

“I have told my mother I will die here if I have to,” said Salah Sharafi. “I will stay here as long as Saleh has – 32 years – if that’s what it takes.” Around 3,000 pro-Saleh demonstrators also gathered yesterday in the capital’s Tahrir Square, where hundreds of loyalist tribesmen have been in situ for the past month.

“We want the president to stay and he has showed he is willing to talk to the opposition,” said Ali Hassan as he waved a placard featuring the president. “But they are refusing to accept his offers. This chaos is their fault.”