Yemen activists arrested, students protest

Tawakul Karman has been charged with unlawfully organising demonstrations.

Last Updated: Jan 24, 2011, 12:16 PM IST

Sana`a: An anti-government protester was shot dead by police in southern Yemen and 19 opposition activists were arrested in the capital on Sunday, including a prominent woman who led rallies against the President last week.

The arrests sparked a new wave of student protests in Sana’a on Sunday, days after demonstrations against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke out across Yemen, inspired in part by the recent ouster of Tunisia`s long-time ruler.

Tawakul Karman, a journalist and member of the Islamist party Islah who was a leading figure in last week`s protests, was detained by police early on Sunday and charged with unlawfully organising demonstrations, her husband said.

Later in the day, police in Sana’a arrested 18 other activists, including the heads of two human rights groups, as they left a meeting to discuss Karman`s arrest.

In the southern city of Aden, the site of frequent protests by separatists, a demonstrator was shot dead by police who were trying to stop a march, residents said. In a separate incident in the restive southern town of Lawdar, a suspected al Qaeda gunman shot dead a soldier, a local security official said.

The arrests of the activists in the capital sparked a protest of several hundred at Sana’a University. The demonstrators, chanting "release the prisoners" and holding pictures of Karman, tried to march to the state prosecutor`s office, who a security source said had ordered her arrest.

But riot police carrying batons beat them back. Police also beat up two TV cameramen filming the protests and confiscated their cameras, a witness said. One was briefly arrested.

"I have no accurate information about her whereabouts," Karman`s husband Mohamed Ismail al-Nehmi said by phone. "Maybe at the central prison, maybe somewhere else, I don`t know."

In a speech aired on state television on Sunday, Saleh reiterated an offer of dialogue with opposition groups and said it was wrong to link Yemen to the events in Tunisia.

"We are a democratic country and not Tunisia which had placed mosques under surveillance and shut everyone`s mouth," he said.

In an apparent move to calm discontent, Saleh also announced plans to raise the salaries of government employees and military personnel by USD 47 to USD 234 a month -- a good bonus for poorly paid soldiers and civil servants in the Arab world`s poorest country.

Bureau Report