Friday, July 1, 2011

Yemenis turn Friday prayers to political rallies

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA | Fri Jul 1, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Yemenis turned Friday prayers into rallies for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh who is recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt earlier this month.

Witnesses said Saleh opponents packed Sixty Street to listen to a Muslim preacher urge acting President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to do more to end a standoff over demands that Saleh quit to allow Yemenis to chose a new leader.

"We have sacrificed all what we own, you should sacrifice what you can," the preacher said, addressing Hadi.

Hadi told CNN that Saleh was so severely injured in the assassination attempt that it is uncertain when he will return to the country after his treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen, a southern neighbor of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has been rocked by months of protests by tens of thousands demanding Saleh end his 33 years in power.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda, which has established a foothold in southern Yemen, might exploit the unrest to carry out attacks in the region and beyond.

Both have urged Saleh to step down under a plan proposed by Gulf Arab states. But 69-year-old Saleh has resisted the pressure, hoping protesters will grow tired and drop their demands.

"We will continue to pay the price until we liberate our country from a tyrannical family-run regime," the preacher said.

In his interview with CNN, Hadi said that according to doctors treating Saleh, no one can tell when the president might return. "Days, weeks, months," he told CNN through a translator. "It could be months, this is a decision up to the doctors."

At Seventy Street, a smaller number of Saleh supporters marched out of Friday prayers holding placards and posters of the president.

"You are our president, leader and commander until 2013," one placard read, referring to when Saleh's term ends.


In Geneva, a U.N. human rights spokesman said that a team of investigators on a visit to Yemen have been receiving good cooperation from the government.

Rupert Colville said the team met with Hadi as well as opposition leaders in Sanaa and with protesters in both the capital and the southern city of Taiz, where at least 15 were killed on May 29 when soldiers opened fire on a demonstration.

"We've had good cooperation from the government which has allowed the team full access," Colville told reporters.

"They have conducted interviews, collected documents, visited the two key protest sites, two squares in Sanaa, where anti-government and pro-government protesters have been gathering."

Separately, security sources said that a New Zealand journalist who had entered Yemen illegally aboard a ship carrying Somali refugees would be deported soon.

They said the journalist, identified as Glen Johnson, was being detained in the southern Lahij province.

"The sources said the journalist will be handed over to the passport and immigration authorities, at which point procedures for his deportation will be completed," the state's Saba news agency said.

New Zealand media have reported that Johnson, who was detained more than a week ago, had been seeking to report on child trafficking in Yemen.

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