x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Tens of thousands join call in Yemen for Saleh to go

Opponents and supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh march in Yemeni capital, while in Aden two are wounded by gunfire and others overcome by tear gas.

SANA'A // Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Yemen yesterday, drawing record crowds in the capital to show President Ali Abdullah Saleh his reform offers would not soften their demand for his immediate departure.

Protests turned violent in the southern port city of Aden, where two people were wounded by gunfire and three overcome by tear gas as police tried to disperse thousands of marchers. One of the wounded protesters was said to be in serious condition.

Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen killed four soldiers on patrol in the south-eastern city of Hajarain, a local official said.

A wave of unrest, inspired partly by popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, has weakened Mr Saleh's 32-year grip on his impoverished nation, a home to an agile and ambitious regional al Qa'eda wing.

Yemenis flooded streets and alleys around Sana'a University in the biggest protest to hit the capital since demonstrations began in January. About 30 people have been killed since then.

But tens of thousands of Saleh loyalists also crammed Sana'a's Tahrir Square, touting pictures of the veteran leader.

A preacher told them: "Your duty is to guard stability, I know many of you are suffering economic hardship, but we Muslims are different. Income comes from God and prayer."

The Sana'a turnout was estimated to be more than 40,000. Tens of thousands marched in Taiz and Ibb, south of the capital.

The protesters, marking what they called the "Friday of no return", gave short shrift to Mr Saleh's offer on Thursday of a new constitution to be voted on this year and electoral reforms.

"We don't want initiatives, we want him to go," said one demonstrator, Ali Abdulrahman.

Tribesman Mohammed Saleh said: "All of us tribes are here now to demand that this guy leaves. We're tired of him."

Several of Yemen's influential tribes have turned against Mr Saleh, as have some Muslim clerics and ruling party politicians.

"It is only a matter of time before we see mass civil disobedience," said a senior government official, who asked not to be named. "Saleh will probably declare emergency law, but I do not think he will survive."

In the central province of Maareb, residents said hundreds of Yemenis demonstrated because they had not been paid for attending Mr Saleh's speech in Sana'a on Thursday. The local newspaper Maareb Press said they been promised 50,000 Yemeni riyals (Dh850) and began shouting "the people demand the fall of the regime" when they did not get the money.

Protesters want an end to Mr Saleh's autocratic system, in which his relatives and allies hold key posts. They also cite frustration with rampant corruption and soaring unemployment.

Some 40 per cent of Yemen's 23 million people live on less than $2 (Dh7) a day and a third face chronic hunger.