Violence escalates as security 'thugs' clash with protesters

 

IN AN escalation of violence over the weekend, at least eight demonstrators were left dead and more than 20 injured by gunfire in ongoing street battles across the country between security forces and protesters calling for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule.

Confrontations yesterday evening between protesters and security forces continued despite the rising number of casualties and a growing government crackdown in the four major cities of Sana’a, Taiz, Aden and Mukalla.

In the capital, clashes with security forces and men labelled as baltajiyah(thugs) by protesters, left seven men with gunshot wounds. In similar scenes in the highland city of Taiz, 209km (130 miles) south of the capital, six men were shot, with two of them critically wounded.

Amid increasing lawlessness on the streets in the west of Sana’a, local home owners built 3m-high (10ft) breeze-block walls to block off residential streets and protect against the spreading violence.

“We don’t want them near our families and homes,” said an angry resident who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

“They only bring trouble,” he said, waving towards a street full of protesters as they destroyed an SUV bearing pictures of the president.

The violence spiralled out of control following the largest ever gathering of up to 100,000 people during Friday prayer protests in the capital. Immediately after the traditional noon service, demonstrators erected yet more tents, expanding their month-old encampment to a major intersection and close to government ministry buildings. As dusk fell, security forces arrived on two sides of the camp aiming to push back the spreading tented village.

The line-up of hundreds of riot police, backed up by water-cannon trucks, led to a stand-off of more than 12 hours between the two sides. Before the sun rose and protesters knelt to pray, the waiting security men fired tear gas and water into the crowd.

A three-hour street battle ensued as demonstrators ripped up stretches of pavement to break and hurl at riot police. Sustained gunfire followed amid the billowing smoke of burning tyres. Two men were shot dead and more than a dozen were left wounded.

The deaths brought fears of tribal retribution as men spoke yesterday of sheiks leaving the city for their provincial homes to gather reinforcements.

“Yes, they have left,” said one tribesman from Amran who declined to give his name, “and they will be back and bring hundreds with them.”

Reports also circulated yesterday that controversial cleric Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani, listed as a terrorist by the United States, had similarly returned to his tribal homeland to gather men and possibly weapons.

Sheik al-Zindani, a previous supporter of the president, publicly attacked Mr Saleh during a speech to demonstrators.