SANAA, Yemen: Tens Of Thousands Demonstrate For Government Change At A Central City Square & University

3 Feb

Tens of thousands of protesters amassed on Thursday at Sanaa University for a “day of rage” against Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s rule, while a similar number of loyalists flooded a central square in support of the embattled Yemeni president.

Yemeni protesters have called for a "day ...
Yemen’s fate has geopolitical importance due to its location between Asia and the West Enlarge photo

The protest, the biggest staged against Saleh in past weeks, came despite the president announcing on Wednesday that he would not seek another term and that he had postponed controversial April elections — two key opposition demands.

Opposition leaders, who have been calling protesters onto the streets in a bid to force Saleh into making reforms, had said they would push on with Thursday’s planned “day of rage” but that they would also study his latest announcements.

Their plans were affected when armed supporters of Saleh’s General People’s Congress took over Al-Tahrir Square, the planned protest venue, on Wednesday night, setting up tents and carrying portraits of the president.

Protest organisers from early Thursday then drove through the streets blaring out over megaphones that the venue had been changed to Sanaa university, about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the square.

They blamed the change on the fact that “the men of the ruling party and their armed elements are holding Al-Tahrir.”

The switch in venue did little to dampen the enthusiasm of protesters, who flocked to the university where they were joined by leaders of the Common Forum, an alliance of five parliamentary opposition parties including the Islamist Al-Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party.

Protesters held banners reading, “The people demand a change” of regime, and “No to a hereditary regime, no to an extension of mandate.” Saleh pledged he would not seek either on Wednesday.

Protesters expressed solidarity with Egyptian demonstrators who were on Thursday staging a 10th day of increasingly bloody protests against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

“May God help the Egyptian people against the tyrant Hosni Mubarak,” the protesters chanted, while police stood at a distance.

At Al-Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of loyalists — about the same sized crowd as the protesters — pledged their support for Saleh and carried banners reading, “We are with Ali Abdullah Saleh. We are with Yemen,” “The opposition wants to destroy Yemen” and “No to destruction, no to sedition.”

Facing demands for him to quit, Saleh on Wednesday announced that he would not seek another term as president, and said he will freeze plans to change the constitution that would have enabled him to remain president for life.

He also said he was opposed to hereditary rule, a response to suspicion among critics that was grooming his eldest son Ahmed Saleh, who commands an elite unit of the Yemeni army, to succeed him as president.

In what appeared to be yet another bid to stave off the kind of mass anti-regime protests that have swept Tunisia and Egypt and which have rippled throughout the Arab world, Saleh also announced he would postpone controversial elections due in April.

Mohammed al-Sabri of the Common Forum said Saleh’s call to halt protests was “unacceptable”. However, he said the group would “discuss the president’s announcement”.

There have been clashes during previous protests against Saleh, including on January 29, when dozens of activists calling for his ouster fought with regime supporters in Sanaa. Plain-clothes police also attacked demonstrators.

Facing growing protests since last month’s downfall of Tunisia’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the wave of anti-regime protests in Egypt, Saleh has also urged the government to take measures against unemployment and ordered that social security coverage be extended.

Yemeni protesters have called for a “day of rage” against President Ali …More Enlarge photo

Supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh rally in Sanaa on Wednesday Enlarge photo

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