Thursday, 17 February 2011

Yemen protests spread, grow more violent


Yemen has been hit by increasingly violent protests that have pitted anti-government demonstrators against government loyalists across the impoverished country.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a U.S. ally against al Qaeda who has been struggling to keep rebellions at bay in Yemen's north and south, now faces the additional challenge of trying to quell the daily popular protests.

Following are some key facts about Yemen's protests:


* Yemen's opposition coalition began organizing the demonstrations almost a month ago, inspired by the popular revolts that brought down the long-serving rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.

* They stopped after agreeing to a package of concessions offered by Saleh, including an offer for national dialogue and a promise not to run for reelection when his term ends in 2013.

But then the demonstrations began to erupt more spontaneously, led mostly by university students and independent activists.

* Protests under this ad-hoc leadership have been smaller than those organized by the opposition, which drew tens of thousands of people. But they occur daily and sometimes last late into the night.

Organization AND GOALS

* The new protesters are much clearer about what they want: Saleh's resignation.

* Many online protesters focus on what they say is the humiliation of living under an authoritarian regime. Unemployment is at least 35 percent, a third of Yemenis face chronic hunger and 40 percent live on $2 a day or less.

* Social networking sites are often being used to rally the protesters, despite the relatively low internet penetration in the Arabian Peninsula state.

Twitter and Facebook pages have been multiplying quickly in the last few days.


* The level of violence is increasing. In the capital Sanaa, protesters often throw rocks at government loyalists armed with batons and daggers. Police have been quicker to crack down with violence in the south, using tear gas and firing into the air.

In the southern protest of Aden, two protesters died from gunshot wounds on Wednesday.

* Activists and protesters complain that many of the government loyalists are men hired to attack them or instigate clashes.

The loyalists have camped out in Sanaa's main square, denying anti-government protesters access to a symbolic public space similar to Cairo's Tahrir square.

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