Friday, December 16, 2011

Yemenis protest against amnesty for Saleh

December 16, 2011- (AFP)
SANAA — Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated Friday across the country rejecting an amnesty given to President Ali Abdullah Saleh against prosecution in a deal that eases him out of office.
"A trial is a must and amnesty is rejected," chanted demonstrators in Sanaa's Sitin Street, close to Change Square -- the focal point of protests that broke out in January demanding Saleh's departure after 33 years in power.
Similar demonstrations were staged in 18 cities and towns across Yemen in response to a call by the central organising committee of protests, as protesters insisted Saleh and his top lieutenants should face justice over the killing of demonstrators.
"There should be punishment for shedding the blood of the youth," said cleric Waheeb al-Sharabi in his Friday sermon in Taez, the second largest city of Yemen and a major flashpoint in the conflict with forces loyal to Saleh.
Last month, Saleh signed a Gulf-brokered deal aimed to end the political crisis in the impoverished country. Under the deal, he handed authority to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, and the opposition formed a national unity government.
Saleh serves now as an honorary president until polls are held in February to elect his successor.
A bloody crackdown on anti-Saleh demonstrations since January has claimed hundreds of lives.

2 killed after huge rally in Yemen, medical official says

December 16, 2011
SANAA, Yemen (CNN) -- Two youth activists were killed in Taiz, in southern Yemen, after participating in a massive march Friday in opposition to the ruling family, a medical official said.
Dr. Sadeq al-Shujah, lead medic in Freedom Square Taiz, said the two youth activists were killed by central security soldiers dressed in civilian clothes as they were heading home after the march.
"The attacks did not happen during the march. The youth were heading home and were (a) target of the ruling family forces. The two dead bodies are now at the medical facility in the square," al-Shujah said.
He said they were shot on Jamal Street, near the square, and a Red Crescent ambulance brought them to the medical facility.
Al-Shujah told CNN that witnesses saw the shooter flee the scene of the attack in a government security vehicle.
Protests were reported Friday in 15 of the country's 21 provinces.
The largest was Taiz. Organizers told CNN that nearly a million people showed up in Freedom Square Taiz. The actual number on hand could not be confirmed.
The anti-government protesters named the protest the "Friday of Trialing," vowing to hold President Ali Abdullah Saleh accountable for the killing of what is alleged to be more than 1,000 youth activists since January.
Banners portraying Saleh as a criminal were raised, as well as some portraying him hanged.
"The criminal must be tried," youth activists repeatedly said in Sanaa and Taiz.
Saleh has agreed to transfer power into the hands of a new coalition government within 90 days. But that accord has not appeared to ease tensions.
"It's nowhere close to being over," said Abdul Haleem al-Magashi, the media officer in Freedom Square Taiz. "We have not achieved 10 percent of our goals. Yemen must be free, democratic and for the people before we consider ending our protests."
Other chants included "no immunity to the bloodthirsty Saleh," and "people want the the butcher behind bars."
Friday's protests were called for a day earlier by the organizing committee for the Yemen revolution, which also called for continuous escalation until the demands of the revolution are met in total.
"Saleh and his family still control the army and wealth of the country," said Khaled Anesi, a leading member of the revolutionary youth council. "Why is everyone thinking our revolution is over? When Saleh stands in front of a revolutionary court, then we can consider our revolution somewhat fruitful."

Yemeni Uprising Opens a Door to Besieged Rebels in the North

Samuel Aranda for The New York Times
All over the city of Saada, the ruins of centuries-old buildings blown apart by artillery stand as reminders of the conflict between Houthis and the government.
December 16, 2011
SAADA, Yemen — In the streets of this city’s medieval quarter, the toll of Yemen’s hidden wars became clear.
Boys and men maimed by fighting, missing hands, eyes or legs, arrived by bus to greet a visiting dignitary. All around them, mud buildings that stood for centuries had been blown apart by artillery fire, crumbling to the earth. Shrapnel pierced the white walls of a mosque, exposing the red brick underneath. In the mosque’s garden, headstones marked the graves of two of the war dead, representing untold numbers of other victims: locals say thousands were killed during the six separate wars in recent years that swept through Yemen’s northern provinces. There is no official tally.
Beginning in 2004, in fighting that was largely invisible to the outside world, President Ali Abdullah Saleh sent his armies to vanquish a group of rebels known as the Houthis, after the clan of their leader. The government bombed villages and shelled cities as it accused the Houthis of kidnappings and assassinations. Hundreds of thousands of civilians took shelter in camps.
It was just one of many conflicts that have destabilized Yemen. Separatists continue to press their claims on the south, and a resurgent offshoot of Al Qaeda has seized territory from a government distracted by a popular uprising and a deal for Mr. Saleh to leave power.
The regional overtones of the northern wars raised the stakes. The government, offering scant proof, accused Iran of interfering as Saudi Arabia, coaxed into the fight, attacked the Houthis with overwhelming force. Mr. Saleh diverted resources from the pursuit of Al Qaeda, sending counterterrorism forces financed by the United States to fight the rebels.
Now in Saada city, the seat of Houthi power, the guns have gone quiet. The calm and recent statements by the Houthis have raised tentative hopes that the rebels may be trying to come in from the cold.
Reporters accompanying a United Nations diplomat on a rare visit to the area last week saw neighborhoods badly damaged in the last round of fighting — hundreds of homes in the city were destroyed — and a threadbare camp for people displaced by the wars. But there were also plans to rebuild, as well as bustling shops and gas stations without the lines that have formed in other Yemeni cities during the current political crisis.
The diplomat, Jamal Benomar, who is the United Nations envoy to Yemen, said the Houthi leader expressed a willingness to participate in a new political process that started last month. The Houthis were not part of an internationally backed agreement to remove Mr. Saleh from power, but the statements by the leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, raised the prospect of an end to their armed struggle. “They need to do politics,” Mr. Benomar said after a meeting with Mr. Houthi. “The sooner, the better.”
The 11-month Yemeni uprising may have given the movement an opening. The Houthis supported the popular uprising and forged new alliances in protest squares around the country. At the same time, they seized on the political crisis to expand the territory under their control, as their rivals allied with the country’s Islamist opposition tried to do the same.
Analysts say that the Houthis are now trying to build on a base of support they have cultivated over years, finding allies among people angered by the government’s indiscriminate attacks during the wars, or impressed with their organizational skills.
Majid el-Fahed, a senior project manager with the Finnish conflict resolution organization Crisis Management Initiative, who travels to Saada often, said that despite the relative youth and inexperience of the movement’s leaders, they had been smart administrators, dividing fuel rations so that a quarter was kept for electric generators and some of the rest was distributed to farmers.
“I think they want to be part of Yemeni politics so they can be socially effective,” he said.
The antigovernment protests that swept through Yemen brought thousands to the streets in Saada for weekly marches from a gate in the old city to a security barracks. In March, as Houthi fighters advanced on the city, the old governor fled.
Now the city is administered by an unlikely coalition that includes government troops and defected soldiers, the Houthis and the new governor, a prominent arms dealer who receives a salary from the state. Many people here said that the Houthis were the most powerful members of that coalition and that there was still plenty of confusion — and concern — about their goals.
At the same time, the troubles in the north are far from over. Scores of people have been killed in recent weeks during fierce clashes in Damaj, a town on Saada’s outskirts, between Houthi fighters and ultraconservative Islamists called Salafis, one of the many layers of a conflict that has festered over time and could derail any political progress. The Houthis are Zaydi Muslims, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. On one level, the fight is between hard-line religious groups with competing agendas. But analysts say it may also represent a proxy war stoked by unseen hands. At various times, the Salafis have been supported by the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia or Yemen’s Islamist opposition, they said.
Houthis in Saada complain that many of the Salafis are foreigners. At a hospital in Saada city there were several wounded Salafis, some of whom said they were afraid to leave for fear of being attacked by the Houthis. A hospital administrator said it was a Saudi-financed hospital, with a mission to provide care and stay out of politics.
In the wards, patients insisted on being heard. They included two Algerians and a student from the United Arab Emirates, who said he had just come to study.
“Then, the fighting started,” he said.
Some viewed the fighting as a trap for the Houthis, orchestrated to plunge them into a new conflict and keep them out of politics. In a statement released after Mr. Benomar’s visit, Mr. Houthi was looking ahead, saying that “in the context of a fair system,” the movement would consider forming a political party. “This is a step forward,” Mr. Benomar said, after his plane had lifted off from an airstrip in Saada. “It’s a step forward in a long road.”