SANAA- Mar 2, 2011- Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has long faced a series of challenges to his rule, but the most pressing is a growing wave of protests in the Arabian Peninsula state demanding an end to his 32 years in power.
Saleh, a U.S. ally already struggling to quash a resurgent al Qaeda wing based in Yemen while keeping rebellions in the north and south at bay, has failed to stamp out protests fuelled by crushing poverty and soaring unemployment.
Worries about instability and corruption have deterred significant foreign investment beyond the small oil industry in Yemen, a neighbour to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, limiting economic growth and worsening unemployment.
GROWING PROTEST MOVEMENT
Protests have gained steam during six weeks of rallies that have left 24 people dead in clashes between protesters and police or armed Saleh loyalists. As protesters across the country stake out camps to maintain 24-hour sit-ins, the demonstrations seem unlikely to fade soon.
The protests, led by students and activists, have been joined by Islamists, southern separatists, tribal groups and the opposition coalition after it backed out of talks with Saleh.
Yemeni protesters are frustrated with widespread corruption and nearly a third of the workforce is out of a job. More than 40 percent of Yemen's 23 million people live on under $2 a day.
Saleh, 68, has been meeting with tribal and military leaders to try and rally support. He offered to end his current term in 2013, and also offered the opposition coalition a unity government. It rejected the offer and vowed to side with protesters in the streets.
Many analysts believe that Saleh, a shrewd political survivor who has been able to maintain his leadership by cobbling together support from tribal alliances, may not be able to grease the patronage system that has kept him in power as oil and water resources dwindle.
WHAT TO WATCH:
- Escalating violence between protesters and police or Saleh loyalists
- Defection to protesters by former Saleh allies
- Al-Qaeda and Islamist Militancy