Sunday, April 3, 2011

Security forces injure hundreds trying to disperse Yemeni protesters

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 3, 2011
Sana'a, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemeni security forces attacked protesters at a square in Taiz on Sunday, injuring more than 300 people, including 20 who were in serious condition from beatings or tear gas, according to information from a field hospital.
None of the injuries involved gunfire, the field hospital information said.
Meanwhile, Yemen's Parliament Speaker rejected a transition plan by the country's largest opposition bloc, indicating continued stalemate over how President Ali Abdullah Saleh should have over power.
Saleh has offered to step down by the end of the year, after constitutional reforms and new elections. The Joint Meeting Parties bloc demands Saleh's immediate ouster, and the plan unveiled Saturday called for Saleh to hand over all authority to Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, a spokesman for the bloc told reporters.
Once power is handed to Hadi, he should change the structure of the security forces -- including the Republican Guard -- in a way that is "fair" and in accordance with Yemen's constitution, the spokesman said.
The bloc also wants Hadi, as president, to form a council that focuses on transparency in the military, a national transition council that will represent all factions in the country and a committee to oversee new elections, and to affirm the right of peaceful protests and investigate claims of brutality against opposition demonstrators.
Speaker of Parliament Yahya Al-Raee, who also is a senior officer of the ruling party, dismissed the bloc's plan, saying "it was prepared during a khat chew and has no value." Many Yemenis chew khat, a tropical plant that acts as a stimulant, as part of social and business transactions.
In Taiz, eyewitnesses said security police aided by riot policy moved in before dawn Sunday to try to disperse demonstrators who had gathered on Saturday. According to the eyewitnesses, some protesters were beaten, and when others tried to help them, the security police fired tear gas. Gunshots were heard, the eyewitnesses said, but there was no indication that shots were fired into the crowd.
On Saturday, at least five people were hurt during scuffles at one of Yemen's dueling, pro- and anti-government demonstrations. The protests brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of Aden and Sanaa.
The injuries occurred at an opposition march in Aden, where there were clashes with security forces. Witnesses report seeing tanks and armored vehicles in the Mansoora district, where thousands marched to demand that Saleh step down. Security forces tried to disperse the crowd using batons and tear gas, witnesses told CNN. Protesters threw stones at authorities, who responded by firing over their heads.
In Sanaa, opposition supporters took up positions outside Sanaa University. Tens of thousands camped at Change Square, pressing forward with protests against the government that have continued for weeks.
Tahrir Square, also in Sanaa, belonged to the president's defenders. Thousands gathered there to show support for Saleh.
Calls for Saleh's ouster have grown louder in recent weeks following revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
Saleh has ruled since 1978 and has been fighting to hold onto power, arguing that he is best equipped to lead the fight against Islamists. He has been a staunch U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The president has said he accepts opposition demands for constitutional reforms and holding parliamentary elections by the end of the year. Saleh has also promised not to run for president in the next round of elections.
But he said as recently as last week that he will not offer any more concessions. Saleh described the opposition as an alliance against the country's majority, according to Saba, the Yemen news agency.
Journalist Hakim Almasmari and CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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