Friday, April 15, 2011

Dueling Protests in Yemen Remain Peaceful


April 15, 2011

SANA, Yemen — More than 100,000 protesters returned to the streets of the Yemeni capital Friday, chanting their support both for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh as he faces growing international pressure to leave office.

In what has become a weekly ritual, Mr. Saleh delivered a speech in front of tens of thousands of supporters following midday prayers. Many of those at the rally carried banners with pro-Saleh slogans or slurs against the political opposition and Al Jazeera. Others climbed to the top of flag poles and waved Saleh posters.

There were clashes reported in the central city of Taiz between plain clothes government supporters and protesters. More than a dozen protesters were injured by thrown rocks and daggers, according to a local doctor.

“I swear, we knew that they were going to attack us today,” said Mahmud al-Shaobi, 33, an activist at the Taiz demonstration who said that men dressed in civilian clothes attacked the protesters with rocks and jambiyas, a traditional Yemeni dagger. “But we, the sons of Taiz came to protest anyway,” he said. “And we will keep doing it until Ali Abdullah Saleh leaves.”

By contrast, the dueling protests in the capital took on a more relaxed — at times, even jovial — feel, a month after government-linked snipers opened fire on antigovernment protesters here, killing 52. The military were notably less present on the streets on Friday than they have been in previous weeks.

Even Mr. Saleh’s tone appeared less defiant in his speech. “The masses of these millions come to these squares to say yes to the constitutional legitimacy, yes to freedom and democracy, yes to Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of this nation,” he said.

But Mr. Saleh also took a jab at his opposition, condemning the antigovernment protest at Sana University for allowing men and women to mix. “I call on them to prevent the mixing on University Avenue which is not approved by Islam,” he said. This new line of attack appeared unlikely to gain much traction among average Yemenis, who do not view the president as particularly devout in his religion.

Antigovernment protesters gathered at their normal place in front of Sana University, about a two miles away from the pro-Saleh rally. As on previous Fridays, the sit-in swelled to tens of thousands, as large portions of Sana’s population participated in the noon prayers.

With protests showing no signs of abating and political stagnation taking hold, Mr. Saleh has watched international support for rule diminish in recent weeks. According to high-ranking Yemeni officials, the United States and the European Union, in conjunction with the regional Gulf Cooperation Council, are working on a plan that would ensure his departure in the months to come and include a transfer of presidential powers to his deputy immediately.

Source: The New York Times

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