x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Protester killed in Yemen demonstration

Massive crowds gather throughout Yemen following Friday prayers; one anti-government protester killed.

SANAA// Security forces shot and killed a protester in the south yesterday, two days after President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised security forces would not harm demonstrators.

In Aden, police shot dead a protester and wounded at least eight others after police used tear gas and fired bullets in the air to disperse a crowd of thousands. On Wednesday, Mr Saleh said he instructed security forces to protect demonstrators and stop clashes between the government supporters and opponents.

The protesters in Aden were among the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets across the country after Friday prayers, demanding the ouster of Mr Saleh.

The massive anti-government protests yesterday swept 12 provinces including Sanaa, Taiz, Ibb, Aden, Hadramaut, Sa'ada, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale, al Baidah, Hodiedah and Thamar, according to sources and media reports.

In the capital, Sanaa, thousands of Saleh supporters were overshadowed by tens of thousands of anti-government protesters who prayed at what has been dubbed "Change Square" in front of Sanaa University. Between prayers, the protesters chanted, "Leave...the people want the regime to fall."

Things were peaceful, for the most part, in Sanaa where dozens of protesters donated watches, mobile phones and other belongings for "the revolution". One watch fetched US$3,000 (Dh11,000) - money that will go to cover the expenses of the thousands who have staged a sit-in in front of the university since Sunday.

At the biggest anti-government protest the capital has seen so far, Sheikh Abdullah Sattar, an influential imam, said the peaceful demonstrations were "religious obligation".

"Every Yemeni citizen is religiously and duty-bound to go to the street and demand the change of this regime. The regime [of Saleh] is a devil who has driven us to the stone ages ... and drove the country from a war into another," Sheikh Sattar said.

"The blood of martyrs will not go in vain. You are performing the best form of Jihad … there is no solution to Yemen and its woes only by the departure of this corrupt regime," Sheikh Sattar said during the Friday sermon.

In an attempt to defuse the demonstrations that have been inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Mr Saleh ordered on Thursday the formation of a government committee to open a dialogue with protesters who have been staging demonstrations for weeks, the state-owned Saba news agency reported. He has also promised to step down when his term ends in 2013.

Saba also reported that the president and top officials discussed Yemen's economy and ways of solving the country's chronic unemployment problem. A lack of jobs in Yemen has been one of the complaints of the protesters.

But that did little to quell the anger on the streets yesterday.

"We do not accept any call for dialogue. You [Saleh] have no choice but to leave with your sons who are leading military institutions. You have to return the money you looted from the wealth of the people. If you do not leave, we will march to your palace," Tawakul Karaman, a protest leader," said at the rally in Sanaa.

In Taiz, 260 kilometres south of Sanaa, tens of thousands filled in the "Freedom Square" and the surrounding streets demanding an end to Mr Saleh's 32 years in power, protest organisers said. They marched to the Kalaba cemetery where they buried the body of the protester who was killed on February 18 when when a grenade was thrown at demonstrators.

About 14 protesters have been killed and dozens wounded in clashes with riot police and government supporters across the country in the past two weeks.