SANA'A // Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets throughout the country yesterday, calling for change and demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32 years in power.
Protesters demanded improvements in living conditions as well as political reforms in demonstrations at four locations in Sana'a, the capital. The demonstrations are an expansion of the unrest sparked by the Tunisian uprising, which also inspired Egypt's largest protests in years.
The Yemen protests were organised by the Joint Meeting Parties, a coalition of six groups that includes the Islamist Islah party.
Similar anti-government protests took place in the southern provinces of Dali and Shabwa. In al Hudaydah province, thousands took to the streets.
In Sana'a, the protesters carried Yemini flags and wore pink pieces of cloth around their heads to demonstrate that their protests were peaceful. They chanted different anti-government slogans: "the people want to change the president", "no to rule succession, no to extension to [president]", "30-year rule is enough, Tunisia revolted after 20 years".
"Enough playing around, enough corruption. Look at the gap between poverty and wealth," one banner read.
"We are partners in this country and we will not submit to exclusion," the protesters shouted amid encouraging songs.
"I have come here to say that we are not cattle to be inherited. We need jobs. We need enough food," shouted Amar al Shamiri, a 22 year old protester as he attended a rally near Sana'a University attended by thousands of protesters, mostly young.
The big rallies were peaceful and there were no reported clashes with security forces. Protesters denounced the decision by the ruling General People's Congress to amend the constitution and conduct parliamentary elections in April.
The protesters object to the election and amendments because "they are against democracy and multi-party system and peaceful transfer of power," said Abdulrakeeb Obad, an opposition leader.
Yemen's PGC-dominated parliament this month gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would allow Mr Saleh to stay in power past 2013, when his second term ends.
The 68-year-old leader has ruled for 32 years, as president of North Yemen from 1978 until 1990 when North and South Yemen unified, and then as president of the Republic of Yemen. His first elected term began in 1999.
In an attempt to placate the protesters, Mr Saleh promised on Sunday to raise the salaries of the civil and security and army personnel by about $24 (Dh88) a month and the government said this will be implemented starting from February. He also denied opposition claims that he plans to transfer power to his son.
The ruling party organised counter protests attended by a few thousand people in Sana'a yesterday to support the government and Mr Saleh.