Friday, 25 February 2011

Thousands Demand Yemen Leader's Departure

Source: Wall Street Journal

Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the capital on Friday to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Small protests have been taking place in Yemen since mid-January, inspired by the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, but Friday's protests drew much larger crowds.

Outside San'a university, where students have been camped out for weeks, the streets were flooded with people. More than 30,000 people attended Friday prayers at the university, to show their support and to mourn the death of two protesters who were shot and killed late Tuesday night by government loyalists.

Because the protests were spread out over multiple streets in central San'a, reliable numbers were hard to calculate. Local media reported between 50,000 and 80,000 antigovernment demonstrators.

A sea of people knelt on their hands and knees in the street to pray for the dead protesters under flapping Yemeni flags, before rising to chant slogans against the president. Crowds of young men and some women moved up the street and started demonstrating in the faces of riot police.

"People want the regime to collapse," screamed the heaving crowds, punching the air as they chanted. At one point, some people converged down a side street, causing a bottleneck. Confusion ensued and shots were fired.

It is unclear whether the gunfire came from the police or pro-Saleh loyalists, who have fired on protesters in the past. Nobody was injured.

Government loyalists staged a counter-demonstration in Tahrir Square, where they have held rallies over the past few weeks.

Giant beige marquees have been set up to prevent antigovernment demonstrators occupying the square. Around 10,000 men marched up and down the streets yelling, "Yemen needs Ali Abdullah Saleh."

Although much smaller than the antigovernment protest, Tahrir Square was flooded with people, many carrying wooden batons.

Antigovernment protesters say the loyalists are hired thugs, using violence to quash the opposition. The government has denied any connection with the violence and states it hasn't paid anyone to protest for the president.

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