Yemen: Protesters defy govt, return to streets

Rising death toll has helped inflame public opinion against the government.

Updated: Apr 06, 2011, 21:57 PM IST

Sanaa: Defying a deadly government crackdown, tens of thousands of protesters on Wednesday poured into the streets of Yemen`s second largest city in the latest demonstrations against the long serving president.

Two groups of protesters met up in the city center where a general strike had closed shops and banks in what activists were calling the "Tsunami of Taiz" and the largest demonstration in this troubled southern city to date.

More than 120 people have been killed since Yemen`s protests calling for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh began on Feb. 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Taiz alone, 16 people were killed Monday when government forces opened fire on demonstrators.

The rising death toll across the country has helped inflame public opinion against the government and sent even more people flooding into the streets of the Arab world`s most impoverished country.

Running out of food, water and oil, Yemen is wracked by a tribal rebellion in the north, a separatist movement in the south and the presence of an al-Qaida affiliate operating in the remote mountainous hinterlands. Saleh has been a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, but there are signs he is losing American support.

Yemen`s central government, run by Saleh for the last 30 years, is weak and relies on the support of the powerful tribes. It is widely seen as riddled with corruption.

"People will not accept anything but him leaving," said activist Boushra al-Moqtari, adding that demonstrators went back into the streets in "defiance of the regime`s threats."

Several cities in the country now host permanent "protest camps" in the main square, mimicking the two-week long Tahrir Square sit-in that brought down Egypt`s president in February. On Friday, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against Saleh across the country.

The president has offered to step down at the end of this year if a transfer of power acceptable to him is reached. But the opposition fears that Saleh, a consummate survivor, is just stalling for time, in hopes that he can find a way to stay in power or just hand over control to one of his sons.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Yemen`s neighbors Oman and Saudi Arabia, has also offered to try to mediate a peace deal.

On Wednesday, the council invited Saleh to attend a mediation session in Saudi Arabia. Their representatives will meet later with the opposition. So far, the protesters in the field have rejected any attempts to hold talks with Saleh, unless they involve his ouster.
"The dialogue in Saudi Arabia doesn`t achieve the minimum demands of the youth. Any dialogue that doesn`t involve quick departure of Saleh, is useless," said Majed al-Mazhaji, an activist and leading member of the opposition in the capital Sanaa.

Earlier, the opposition put forward a proposal in which Saleh would step down and hand his powers over to the vice president, who would then organize a process to rewrite the constitution and hold new elections.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said American envoys "continue to consult intensively" with Yemen`s government and the opposition, but he refused to give details of any specific US plans.

Saleh has shown little interest in compromise as long as protests rage.

"We are prepared to explore the peaceful transfer of authority in the framework of the constitution, but arm-twisting will absolutely not work," he said on Sunday, adding a day later that "we will stand as firm as mountains and will remain faithful to the people."

Bureau Report

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