Thousands of Yemenis protest nationwide

Several thousand Yemeni protesters defied appeals for calm from the military and the country`s most influential Islamic cleric and marched through the capital.

Last Updated: Feb 17, 2011, 23:07 PM IST

Sanaa: Several thousand Yemeni
protesters defied appeals for calm from the military and the
country`s most influential Islamic cleric and marched through
the capital on Thursday, pressing on with their campaign to oust the
US-allied president.

The protesters fought off attacks by police and
government supporters swinging batons and daggers. Municipal
vehicles ferried sticks and stones to the pro-government side,
witnesses said.

For seven straight days, protests have hit the capital,
Sanaa, and other cities in the Arab world`s poorest country, a
mountainous territory wracked by tribal conflicts, armed
rebellion and other serious woes.

Inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemenis have
poured into the streets to demand the ouster of President Ali
Abdullah Saleh after 32 years in power three years more than
Egypt`s Hosni Mubarak. Their main grievances are poverty and
government corruption.

Saleh`s promises not to run for re-election in 2013 or to
set up his son to succeed him have failed to quiet the
anti-government storm sweeping Yemen and other nations in the
region. Similar protests also swept into Libya and Bahrain
this week.

The Yemeni president is an important US ally in fighting
al-Qaida. The terror group`s Yemen-based offshoot has been
linked to attacks beyond Yemen`s borders, including the failed
attempt in December 2009 to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner.

Today`s protests began with small gatherings of students
marching toward downtown Sanaa. Many other people joined them
as clashes broke out with police and government supporters.
The number of protesters reached about 6,000.

"People want to topple the president, people want to
topple the regime," they chanted.

Witnesses said police fired shots into the air to
disperse the protesters. A dozen protesters and an unknown
number of policemen were injured.

Security officials said police arrested about 50
protesters. Clashes were reported today in several other
towns, including the port city of Aden.

Seeking to hold on to the momentum, activists have called
for a "day of rage" tomorrow.

Yemen`s official news agency, Saba, reported that
President Saleh chaired a meeting of the army`s top officers
last night to discuss the turmoil. The Defence Council later
called for calm.

Another appeal to end the protests came from Yemen`s most
prominent religious figure, Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, who
is close to Saleh. The United States considers him an
al Qaeda-linked terrorist. "Change by street protest is
rejected. It leads to chaos," al-Zindani said.

PTI