SANA'A // Police clashed with protesters in Yemen's volatile southern province of Lahj yesterday, leaving at least two people dead, according to one of the activists, further underscoring growing divisions in the country. At least 18 people, including five security officers, have been killed in protests in recent weeks, as southerners step up their complaints about economic and political marginalisation. Yesterday's clash happened as thousands of people turned out to bury four victims of an earlier protest.
A group of armed mourners had tried to approach Ibn Khaldon Hospital, where two of the victims' bodies were being held, but were stopped by police, said Fawaz Hasan, who was at the funeral."Then we heard gunfighting between the two sides. Two were killed and four were wounded including a serious injury." The protesters were carrying banners with anti-government messages and posters of Ali Salem al Baidh and Ali Naser Mohammed, former presidents of South Yemen, now living in exile.
Authorities said one person was killed and another three injured and accused southern separatists of starting the gunfight.Over the past three years, the southern part of the country has been hit by increasingly violent protests as southerners complain they have been marginalised since the unification of the country in 1990.On May 21, four people were killed and scores injured and arrested after a violent protest in the port city of Aden. The government said it had detained 248 people, but southern movement leaders said the number was closer to 500.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, has called for dialogue with leaders of the southern movement. But nothing concrete has come of it.Instead, authorities have put the movement's leaders on trial. The closed-door trial of Fadi Hasan Baom, leader of the Southern Youth Union, started yesterday in the state security court in the capital. Mr Baom, according to the state-run Saba news agency, was charged with "committing crimes aimed at harming national unity, jeopardising the constitution and instigating an armed revolt against the authorities".
He was also accused of inciting people to act against the law and fomenting sectarian division and hatred. Mr Baom, according to sources inside the court who requested anonymity, denied the charges and asked for a lawyer.His trial comes one week after Yemen's former ambassador to Mauritania, Qassim Askar Jubran, appeared in court on the same charges. Forty-six members of the movement are being interrogated in Lahj on similar charges.
In 1990, a union between the Marxist-led south and tribal-dominated north was reached. But the deal between the People's General Congress and the Yemeni Socialist Party fell apart and a political crisis developed, which led to civil war in 1994.The socialists were crushed by Mr Saleh's army and the defeated leaders went into exile despite a pardon issued by Mr Saleh, who ruled North Yemen from 1978 to 1990 and has been president of a united Yemen since 1990.
The Sons of Yemen League, an opposition party, called yesterday for a new system of government which would see the president and vice president directly elected by the people."What is happening now is more serious than what happened in 1994 due to the increasingly mobilised hatred between southern and northern people. "We are putting forward an initiative for solving the problems that have pushed us into this impasse.
"If we do not listen to each other at this critical moment in our history, we will not find the time to do that in the future," said Abdulrehman al Jefri, president of the firstname.lastname@example.org