Balloons carry Yemen`s protest message: Leave, Ali

Saleh has refused to put an end to his 32 years in power despite tremendous pressure from protests.

Last Updated: May 06, 2011, 23:10 PM IST

Sanaa: Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis
seeking their President`s ouster found a new way to get their
message across on Friday, releasing balloons that drifted over the
presidential palace with the message "Leave, Ali" painted on
them.

The tens of thousands of colourful balloons were blown
across the capital and over top of the palace, where a smaller
rally of President Ali Abdullah Saleh`s supporters listened to
the embattled leader deliver a message of his own denouncing
his opponents as terrorists, looters and killers.

Saleh has refused to put an end to his 32 years in
power despite tremendous pressure from three months of street
demonstrations and from neighbouring Arab nations fearful that
Yemen`s growing instability could spill into their wealthy
oil-producing lands.

What began as a sit-in on a university campus in the
capital, Sanaa, has grown into demonstrations by hundreds of
thousands across the country. Like the other Arab leaders
forced from power or under threat in the Arab world`s
uprisings, Saleh has used a mix of concessions and brutal
force to try to quell the outpouring.

Despite the killings of more than 140 protesters, the
crowds continue to gather.

Rival rallies by Saleh`s supporters and opponents have
become a fixture in the capital on Fridays, although the
anti-Saleh crowds far outnumber those of his backers.

This Friday, the anti-Saleh rally was dubbed a "Day of
Gratitude to the South" to honor southerners who in 2007
renewed their own protests against what they say is government
neglect of their once-independent region.

Those protests swelled into a full-scale secessionist
movement, one of several key security challenges testing
Saleh`s rule even before the nationwide anti-government
protests broke out in early February.

Among the other threats are the deadly al Qaeda
offshoot that took refuge in the country in recent years and
an on-and-off armed rebellion in the north. Yemen is also the
Arab world`s poorest nation and is wracked by corruption and
unemployment.

Protesters in the capital today again occupied a
five-mile (eight-kilometer) section of a major western
boulevard and released balloons in the red, black and white
colours of the flag with the anti-Saleh protest cry of "Leave,
Ali" written on them.

Demonstrators then turned south, where tens of
thousands of Saleh supporters were rallying outside the
presidential palace and chanted for him to go.

"The people want the end of the regime," they shouted,
using the slogan first heard in Tunisia and later around the
Arab world.

PTI