Friday, October 7, 2011

Nobel prize "victory for Arab Spring," Yemen winner

SANAA (Reuters)- Oct 7, 2011- Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman said on Friday her award was a victory for Yemen and all Arab Spring revolutions and a message that the era of Arab dictatorships was over.

The peace activist, who was detained briefly during protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, told Reuters the peaceful revolution to topple the veteran autocrat would continue.

"This is a victory for the Yemeni people, for the Yemeni revolution and all the Arab revolutions," the 32-year-old mother of three said.

Karman shared the prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee. She drew praise from a Saudi Islamist preacher, who called her an inspiration to freedom-seekers.

"This is a message that the era of Arab dictatorships is over. This is a message to this regime and all the despotic regimes that no voice can drown out the voice of freedom and dignity," Karman told Reuters.

"This is a victory for the Arab Spring in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Our peaceful revolution will continue until we topple Saleh and establish a civilian state."

Karman has been a key figure among the youth activists since they began camping out in an urban space dubbed 'Change Square' in central Sanaa in February demanding the end of Saleh's three-decade family rule.

She has often been the voice of the street activists on Arabic television, giving on-the-ground reports from the square outside Sanaa University, where dozens of activists have been shot dead by government forces.

Yemenis at the square reacted with joy at the news.

"Yemen will go down in history thanks to Tawakul Karman. She deserves the prize. She has kept fighting for the sake of her peoples' freedom," said Abdulbari Taher, a protest leader.

A government official also praised Karman's award, expressing hope it would lead to a resolution of a crisis that has brought Yemen's economy to a halt.

"I'm very happy with the news that she won the Nobel Prize and it's something that all Yemenis can be proud of," Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said. "I hope this prize will be a step toward rationality."

Saleh, who survived an assassination attempt in June, has repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal arranged by Gulf Arab countries that would see him step down ahead of new elections.

Saleh has for long enjoyed Saudi and U.S. backing as their man to fight al Qaeda militants based in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state of over 23 million.

"This is a confirmation from the world that Yemen is on the brink of a new era, an era of freedom and equality," Karman said. "I dedicate this award to the Yemeni people and the youth of the Arab Spring, and to the Arab world and to every martyr who has died for freedom."

Karman, a member of the Islamist Islah party, is a feisty activist whose global notoriety could provoke ire among religious conservatives.

But Saudi Islamist preacher Mohsen al-Awajy praised her.

"I am proud of her. Conservatives have some reservations and narrow views but they won't make those assumptions about these global achievements," he said.

"I think most Saudis and anybody who is calling for freedom or reform would look at her as a good woman. She should be appreciated."

Yemenis began their uprising after Tunisians stunned Western powers and Arab leaders by bringing down Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office in February after three weeks of protests.

But Bahrain's rulers crushed a democracy movement in March, and activists in Syria and Yemen have spent months in deadly conflict with their governments.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in August after months of fighting with a protest movement that transformed into an armed rebellion with backing from NATO.

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