x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Protest violence in Yemen kills five demonstrators

In Sana'a, at least 11 anti-government protesters were wounded in clashes with government supporters armed with clubs, daggers and pistols.

SANA'A // A grenade attack on anti-government protesters killed one person and injured dozens as government supporters and riot police clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators across Yemen yesterday. Four more people were shot dead by police in the southern port city of Aden, where violent clashes broke out for the third day between protesters and police.

In Taiz, south of the capital Sana'a, a protester was killed when armed men, accused of being government supporters, threw a grenade at a gathering of tens of thousands. He was one of dozens of people brought to hospital, where he died of his wounds, medics said. Taiz officials denied the attackers were supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh or his party.

Yesterday was the eighth consecutive day of protests against Mr Saleh.

"Armed men from the ruling party threw a hand grenade at the protesters and more than 40 people were injured," Bushra al Maktari, a protest organiser in Taiz, said in a telephone interview.

"I am now in the hospital and the situation is terrible. Some of the injuries are very serious," Ms al Maktari said. She said the attack brought more people on to the streets.

"The protesters are angry and they started blood donation to the injured. We are now demanding the prosecution of the leading officials in the ruling party who encouraged their thugs to attack us," she said, adding that she was injured in her leg by shrapnel from the grenade.

Hamud al Sufi, the governor of Taiz, said the attackers were not supporters of the ruling General People's Congress.

"According to initial investigations with the suspected attackers, some of the protesters threw stones at their car and they responded by throwing the hand grenade. These might be outlaws and investigations will be announced once they are complete," Mr al Sufi said. The government organised a rival protest in Taiz in support of Mr Saleh.

In Sana'a, at least 11 anti-government protesters were wounded in clashes with government supporters armed with clubs, daggers and pistols. Riot police fired shots in the air and used tear gas to disperse the crowds in the biggest demonstration in Sana'a in the past eight days of protests.

Some imams in the capital seemed to take a critical tone with the government yesterday - adding a new element to the protests.

Imam Jabri al Yamani at the Sana'a University mosque condemned the torture and beating of demonstrators, telling many protesters who had gathered there: "We have been living for 30 years without purpose or hope." He said "protests must be peaceful and not scare and harm the people".

Another Sana'a imam, Abdel Raqib Obad, urged people to join the protests and criticised the security forces for "battling" the youth.

After noon prayers, thousands of protesters marched from the Sana'a University mosque towards the presidential palace, and were met by riot police and hundreds of Mr Saleh's supporters.

The two sides attacked each other with rocks, and riot police began firing live ammunition in the air and launching tear gas. Among those attacked by government supporters were Hamud Munsar, the head of the Sana'a office of the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television network, and an Al Arabiya cameraman, Fuad al Khadir. Mr Munsar said their camera was destroyed.

In Aden, four protesters were killed and several others were wounded when police fired live ammunition to disperse a crowd demanding that Mr Saleh step down, according to witnesses.

Yesterday's deaths brought the toll to six during the past three days of protests in Aden, where demonstrators have burnt government cars and a local council building in the Sheikh Othman neighbourhood. Similar government buildings in al Mansura and Crater districts were set on fire on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr Saleh has tried to meet some of protesters' demands. He announced on February 2 that he would not seek to extend his term beyond 2013, and has reached out to tribal elders.

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition coalition of six parties, condemned the increasing violence by the "thugs" of the ruling party against the protesters during the past week.

"We hold the president accountable for the mass killing attack on Taiz uprising and the consequences of such attacks," Mohammed al Kubati, a spokesman of the JMP, said yesterday.

In its first statement since the protests began, the US Embassy in Yemen called on the government "to fulfil its responsibility to protect the life and property of all Yemenis and to safeguard their basic human and civil rights [and] to prevent any further attacks on peaceful demonstrations".

The embassy said it "observed a disturbing rise in the number and violence of attacks against Yemeni citizens gathering peacefully to express their views on the current political situation. We have also seen reports that Government of Yemen officials were present during these attacks".

malqadhi@thenational.ae