x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Scores wounded in Yemen as protesters fight off attacks

Police and regime loyalists violently confront crowds in the seventh consecutive day of street demonstrations in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a.

Yemeni anti-government protesters use a makeshift shield to protect a wounded demonstrator during clashes with regime loyalists in central Sanaa.
Yemeni anti-government protesters use a makeshift shield to protect a wounded demonstrator during clashes with regime loyalists in central Sanaa.

SANA'A // More than 30 people were wounded in clashes between government supporters and pro-democracy protesters in the seventh consecutive day of street demonstrations in the Yemeni capital.

Several thousand protesters defied appeals for calm from the military and the country's most influential cleric. The protesters fought off attacks by police and government supporters swinging batons and daggers. Municipal vehicles carried sticks and stones to the government supporters, witnesses said.

Yemenis have poured into the streets to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Their main grievances are poverty and government corruption. Across the country, Mr Saleh's supporters and anti-government protesters have fought battles during much of the past week. Thousands of protesters, mostly students, had planned to gather at Sana'a University yesterday but were met by government supporters. The protesters then marched to nearby Ribat Street, but they were followed by regime supporters who started throwing stones and beating them with sticks.

The protesters chanted "the people want to overthrow the regime" and threw stones back. Fierce clashes then erupted, spreading to Sixty-metre Street, the biggest street in the capital.

Police fired warning shots to disperse the crowds. Witnesses said live bullets were fired by some of the pro-government protesters. The clashes continued for five hours and left more than 30 injured, according to medics.

Abdulrasheed al Fakih, a human-rights activist, described the attacks as "brutal".

"Confronting protesters in such a violent and brutal way will not repress protests but rather adds fuel to the fire," Mr al Fakih said. The pro-democracy protesters have accused the regime supporters and security persons in plainclothes of intimidating and attacking them - an accusation denied by the ruling party.

In Aden, violent clashes broke out yesterday for the second day between protesters and police in al Mansura neighbourhood. Six people were injured, witnesses said.

Heavy gunfire was heard in the neighbourhood as police tried to disperse protesters who headed for the home of Yassin Askar, who was killed along with another protester on Wednesday.

Twenty people were also wounded on Wednesday and a similar number have been arrested, a local official said after hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed the council office building in Aden and set four cars ablaze.

Mr Saleh ordered an investigation on Wednesday into the riots in Aden, the state-run Saba news agency reported. "The riots left a number of killed and injured people, attacking private proprieties and burning some cars," it said.

In Taiz, south of Sana'a, thousands yesterday continued their protest with organisers calling for a protest today. The government has deployed thousands of army troops in the city where the anti-government protesters took over a main square several days ago. In the evenings, their numbers have swelled to several thousand.

The interior ministry urged the people in a statement yesterday not to respond to calls of those who are "dragging the country into violence and chaos".

The statement came as a group of clerics called for the formation of a transitional government.

Sheikh Abdulmajeed al Zindani, a prominent religious hardliner, said the parties involved must "establish a national unity government" to prepare for a "free and fair parliamentary election" in six months time.

Mr al Zindani said Yemen's association of clerics will have a meeting on Monday and issue a statement on the situation.

"We have two choices, either to fight with each other or go to election," he said.

Mr Saleh has already offered a national unity government but the plan has been rejected by opposition leaders. The president said on February 2 that he would not seek to extend his term beyond 2013.


* With additional reporting from the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse