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Anti-government protesters clash with Yemen police

University students mount third day of demonstrations calling for political reforms and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

SANA'A // Hundreds of anti-government protesters clashed yesterday with police, in a third consecutive day of demonstrations calling for political reforms and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The protesters, mostly university students, who gathered at Sana'a University for hours before marching towards the presidential palace, were soon blocked by security forces, some dressed in plainclothes carrying clubs. Reports said several protesters were injured in the clash and that police arrested a number of stone-throwers.

Khalid al Anisi, one of the protest leaders, said he was held by police for several hours and questioned about the organisers behind the protests. He said police accused him of stirring up chaos and disorder.

"They beat me up with clubs and electric batons. These are not just rascals. I have been told that some of the attackers in plainclothes are members of the anti-terrorism unit," Mr al Anisi said.

More than 1,000 people joined the protest, some of them chanting slogans drawing parallels between Mr Saleh, who has been in power for 30 years, and Hosni Murbarak, the long-standing Egyptian president who was forced to step down.

About 40 government supporters organised a rival rally at the gate of Sanaa University, shouting pro-Saleh slogans such as: "With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for Ali."

In Taiz city, 250 kilometres to the south of the capital, thousands took to the streets to demand Mr Saleh to stand down. According to the opposition, police broke up the protest early yesterday, arresting about 120 people.

Pro and anti-government protesters have clashed several times in recent days. On Saturday, police in plainclothes and government supporters, armed with knives and sticks, routed demonstrators in the capital. A day earlier, protesters celebrating the toppling of Mr Mubarak were dispersed from the city by the authorities.

Mr Saleh has postponed a visit to the US which that had been scheduled for late February, the state Saba news agency reported yesterday, "due to the current circumstances in the region". The agency said Mr Saleh, who was invited to Washington by the US president, Barack Obama, would reschedule the visit.

Shortly before yesterday's clash in Sana'a, the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition of six parties, announced that they accepted Mr Saleh's call for a resumption of talks.

After the protests started in Egypt last month and in an attempt to avert a showdown with protesters, Mr Saleh promised to step down when his term ends in 2013. He also said he would not pass on power to his son and postponed the parliamentary election that was scheduled for April.

"The opposition does not reject what came in the invitation by the president and is ready to sign an agreement in no more than a week," said Mohammed Basondwa, a former foreign minister who is now an opposition politician. He said the talks should include western or Gulf observers.

The opposition said in a press conference yesterday that to prove he was serious about reform, Mr Saleh should fire his sons, brothers, nephews and other relatives from key military, security and other government positions.

Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed, is commander of the Republican Guards, an elite regiment of the army, while his nephew, Yahia Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, is the chief of staff of the central security forces.

Mr Saleh's government is facing a growing secessionist movement in the south, an intermittent war in the north, an insurgent wing of al Qa'eda as well as increasing economic hardships.

malqadhi@thenational.ae

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