Protesters in Yemen meet hard line from government

 

FOR THE fifth consecutive day anti-government demonstrations in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, turned violent in a wave of protests across the country, ignited by last week’s resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Soldiers, watching expectantly over every major road junction and landmark across the city, swapped their usual guns for baseball bat-style batons and riot shields yesterday as demonstrators gathered at Sana’a University.

Several hundred activists chanting “Ali leave, Ali leave” were matched in number by supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s ruler for more than 32 years.

The loyalists arrived by the busload as portrait placards of the president, along with sticks, were handed out to men and boys as young as 10 or 12 from the back of government SUVs.

Pro-government supporters chanted: “With our blood and our hearts we defend the president,” as they marched to the entrance of the university.

Amid traffic chaos around the campus the vocal conflict eventually turned physical. Demonstrators threw rocks and raised sticks.Three people were reportedly injured.

“We will keep coming out, every day until he [Saleh] leaves. Egypt did it, so can we,” said one unemployed graduate as the crowd scattered.

In a tea shop opposite the university two students were avoiding the latest protests.

“Yes, I am afraid. They are beating people now and soon they will start shooting them. The political security are animals,” said one student who did not want to give his name.

“All these men,” he said, waving his hand in the direction of the president’s supporters, “They’ve either been paid by the ruling party to be here, or they are soldiers in civilian clothes.” In the same shop a teenager rested with a Saleh placard next to him.

When asked if he had been paid to support the president he shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe. What does it matter? I need the money.” The two students raised their voices, calling him names. “This is why Yemen is such a mess. People, politicians, they don’t care about anything but money.”

The Arab region’s poorest state, Yemen is ranked 154 out of 180 countries in the 2011 freedom from corruption index. According to 2008 figures, corruption costs the economy $4 billion a year. Almost half the 23 million population lives on less than $2 a day and unemployment is 40 per cent.

Yesterday’s small but violent protests continued a daily pattern seen in the city since Mubarak’s fall. The first clashes were seen on Friday night, after a gathering of more than 1,000 people celebrated the uprising in Egypt. The peaceful demonstration ended with people fleeing from plainclothes security men wielding sticks and knives.

While the violence has escalated, numbers of anti-government protesters have fallen. On Sunday, security forces in civilian clothes once again waded into an already dwindling crowd of 1,000 student-led demonstrators, during a sit-in at a major road junction en route to the President’s (Al-Saleh) Mosque. Several protesters, including women, were injured after taser guns and batons were used to disperse demonstrators.

On Monday, Mr Saleh cancelled a planned trip to Washington amid growing calls for his resignation.