Friday, January 28, 2011
Agence France Presse
SANAA: Thousands of Yemenis held a mass demonstration Thursday calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit after holding power since 1978.
It came a day after a 28-year-old man set fire to himself in the port city of Aden, the ex-capital of the formerly independent south, witnesses said. That brought to four the number of such copycat self-immolation attempts in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
“Enough being in power for [over] 30 years,” chanted protesters in demonstrations staged by the Common Forum opposition in four different parts of the capital Sanaa.
In reference to the ouster of veteran Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the demonstrators said he was “gone in just [over] 20 years.”
But Interior Minister Motahar Rashad al-Masri dismissed any resemblance between the protests in Yemen and the public outcry in Tunisia that led to Ben Ali’s departure. “Yemen is not like Tunisia,” he told AFP, adding that Yemen was a “democratic country” and that the demonstrations were peaceful.
At least 10,000 protesters gathered at Sanaa University and around 6,000 more elsewhere in Sanaa in protests organized by Yemen’s opposition coalition, Reuters witnesses said.
Witnesses said that, during protests Wednesday, a bus station employee set fire to himself in a central square in Aden and was only saved from death by the swift action of passersby who put out the flames.
Medics said he remained in intensive care after suffering extensive burns. He was at least the fourth such protester, security sources said.
Slogans chanted during Thursday’s demonstration in the capital Sanaa were firm in demanding Saleh’s departure. Protesters said they were also demanding improvements in living conditions.
“No to extending [presidential tenure]. No to bequeathing [the presidency],” chanted demonstrators, insisting that it was “time for change.”
Opposition Al-Islah (Reform) party MP Abdel-Malik al-Qasouss echoed the demands of the protesters when he addressed them. “We gather today to demand the departure of President Saleh and his corrupt government,” he said.
Security measures at the demonstrations appeared relaxed, but were tight around the Interior Ministry and the central bank.
Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC), meanwhile, organized four simultaneous counter-demonstrations which were attended by thousands of the government’s backers. “No to toppling democracy and the constitution,” the president’s supporters said on their banners.
Hundreds of Sanaa University students held counter protests on campus, Saturday, with some calling for Saleh to step down and others for him to remain in office.
Saleh, who has been president for decades, was re-elected in September 2006 for a seven-year mandate.
A draft amendment of the constitution, under discussion in Parliament despite opposition protests, could allow him – if passed – to remain in office for life.
Yemen’s southern provinces also see frequent protests demanding the secession of the regions that made up the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was independent from 1967 when Britain withdrew from Aden until it united with the north in 1990. Protesters took to the streets of several southern towns Thursday, demanding renewed independence for the region. – With Reuters