Rivals clash in Yemen palace protest march

15th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pro-regime supporters armed with batons and stones waded Tuesday into a crowd of anti-government protesters trying to march on Yemen's presidential palace, sparking clashes dispersed by police.

At least three people were injured as the rivals pelted each other with stones, said an AFP correspondent, in the fourth straight day of protest in central Sanaa.

Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters estimated to number 3,000 poured out of Sanaa University to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years.

"The people want to oust the regime" they chanted, picking up the slogan used by demonstrators in Egypt who forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down last Friday after 18 days of mass protests.

As they advanced on Saleh's palace, supporters of the president's General People's Congress armed with batons and stones confronted the demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones.

The president's supporters singled out opposition MP Ahmed Saif Hashed for attack, but he was protected by fellow marchers, witnesses said.

Demonstrators said police sided with the pro-Saleh militants in dispersing the crowd.

International human rights watchdogs have criticised the conduct of the police, including the alleged use of Taser guns.

But cyber-activist Hashem al-Abara, involved in organising the protests in the Arab world's poorest country through Facebook, said the demonstrators would not be intimidated.

"We will continue with the protests and the ruling party's attacks against our peaceful demonstrations will not set us back," Abara said. "If Egypt stayed 18 days, it will not matter to us if we stay one, two or three months."

As tensions soared outside his palace, Saleh announced that his office was open "to listen to the views" of "various segments of society from all the republic's provinces."

"These direct meetings between the president and people from various social segments will provide the chance to discuss all the developments and... listen to different views... to serve the country," the state news agency Saba said.

On Monday, rocks and batons flew in the capital as the protesters -- mainly students and lawyers -- clashed with police and Saleh's supporters. Police also attacked protesters in Sanaa on Sunday.

In Taez, south of Sanaa where anti-Saleh demonstrators staged protests on Tuesday for a fourth day, similar clashes erupted with regime loyalists, with no casualties reported after eight people were hurt on Monday.

The Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders condemned on Tuesday what it called attacks on journalists covering the protests.

"RSF roundly condemns the attacks that security agents, police officers and plainclothes men have carried out against journalists covering street protests in Sanaa during the past two days," it said.

It urged "Yemeni authorities to allow journalists to do their work without fear of being arrested or physically attacked by members of the security forces, who are supposed to protect them."

In London, Alistair Burt, Britain's minister for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement on Tuesday called on Sanaa to "respect the people's right to peaceful protest and listen to their legitimate grievances."

The ruling party's website accused the parliamentary opposition Common Forum of sending "thugs" to attack the protesters in Taez "who gathered... to protest peacefully against corruption, chaos and destruction and in support of" Saleh's initiative for renewing dialogue.

Several people were slightly injured in the attacks on Monday by supporters of the Common Forum in which they used "batons and stones," reported the almotamar.net website.

Common Forum had been a leader of the protests until Sunday, when it decided to enter into talks with the government.

Anger at rampant corruption has helped to fuel unrest in Yemen.

In Sanaa, protests have becoming increasingly violent, despite Saleh -- elected to a seven-year-term in September 2006 -- urging dialogue on forming a government of national unity.

Besides poverty and unemployment, Saleh's government is grappling a secessionist movement in the south, rebellion in the north, and a regrouping of Al-Qaeda on its soil.


© 2011 AFP

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