Demonstrations Turn Violent in Yemen
March 21, 2011
By: Carlos Aramayo | Printer Friendly
Protests in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a remained relatively peaceful until policemen and security agents in civilian clothes fired live rounds in an attempt to prevent people from joining thousands of protesters camped out in front of Sana’a University, the New York Times reports. The violent repression took place on March 18 despite President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s earlier pledge that security forces would “protect the demonstrators.” Following the crackdown, the anti-government protesters responded by erupting in violent clashes throughout Sana’a.
According to Reuters, the Saleh government sent army units to the campus of Sana’a University and clashed with students that have been camped out on the university grounds since mid-February. The protesters are angry at widespread corruption in a country where 40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day or less and university graduates struggle to find sustainable jobs. The BBC reports that six people were dead and 1,250 injured during the clashes – 250 of them seriously. "It's a massacre," said opposition spokesman Muhammad Qahtan. "It is a crime by security troops against students engaged in a peaceful sit-in."
In addition to clashing with anti-government protesters, the Yemeni government has been engaged in confrontations with Shia rebels in the north and separatists in the south demanding fairer political participation. According to the Voice of America, Saleh in an attempt to quell protests proposed giving more power to Parliament. The announcement was characteristically vague. As of now, it remains unclear how much power Saleh would allow to be shifted to the parliament and the prime minister.
The Washington Post reports that Al-Qaida's arm in Yemen has been one of the terrorist group's most active affiliates. It is home to radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the English speaking-spiritual Islamic leader who has been accused of inspiring and directing young jihadists to attack the West. "I would put Yemen at the top of the list in part because there is so much direct concern about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula trying to target and attack the United States," said Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser for terrorism.
Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, told Congress last month that he was concerned because Saleh is facing challenges from all sides. "He has secessionists in his country, the presence of al-Qaida and he's another leader who has been in place a long time," Clapper stated.
The United States, who is a close ally to Saleh, gave the Yemeni government $155 million in military aid to fight al-Qaida last year — and that figure is expected to rise this year, the Washington Post reports.
The BBC reports that despite Saleh’s plans to change the constitution and to move to a parliamentary system. Adel al-Surabi, a spokesman for the student-led sit-in, stated the protesters rejected the proposal. “Leave, Mr. Saleh. This is our demand,” he said.
For previous news on Yemen, please see:
President Saleh of Yemen is Feeling the Pro-Democracy Wave in the Middle East
Voice of America – Yemen President Pledges Constitutional Referendum
BBC – Yemen protest attacked by police
The New York Times – Yemeni army storms Sanaa University, wounding 98
The New York Times – Yemen’s Leader Proposes Shifting Powers
Reuters – Yemen president vows reform as protests continue