Yemeni police fire on protest, 65 hurt: hospital

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:49 PM
Yemeni police fire on protest, 65 hurt: hospital

By Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni police opened fire on protesters in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday, wounding at least 65 people demonstrating for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year-old rule, hospital sources said.

Six of the wounded were in a serious condition, they said.

Policemen and security agents in civilian clothes opened fire as they tried to prevent people from joining thousands of protesters who have camped out for weeks in front of Sanaa University, witnesses told Reuters earlier.

The state news agency Saba blamed the shooting on gunmen linked to a tribal leader and said three demonstrators and three policemen were injured. It said police were hunting the gunmen.

Earlier police brought out water cannon and placed concrete blocks around Sanaa University, after weeks of fierce clashes across the country between government loyalists and protesters that killed at least 27 people.

Around 10,000 protesters marched in the city of Dhamar, 60 km (40 miles) south of Sanaa, residents said by telephone. Dhamar is known for ties to Saleh and is the hometown of Yemen's prime minister, interior minister and head judge.

"Leave! leave!" the protesters shouted in Dhamar, two days after Saleh loyalists there held a similar-sized rally. Protesters pelted a municipal official with rocks.

Burgeoning protests fueled by anger over poverty and corruption, and a series of defections from Saleh's political and tribal allies, have added pressure on him to step aside this year even as he pledges to stay on until his term ends in 2013.

"Across the board, what you're seeing is that more and more people are really starting to crystallize around this single call for the president to step down," Princeton University Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen said.

Yemen, neighbor to oil giant Saudi Arabia, was teetering on the brink of failed statehood even before recent protests. Saleh has struggled to cement a truce with Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north and curb secessionist rebellion in the south, all the while fighting al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing.

MINISTER BLAMES POOR ECONOMY

Analysts say protests may be reaching a point where it will be difficult for Saleh to cling to power.

In what could add to popular anger, two Yemeni rights groups said two prisoners had died after security forces on Monday used live ammunition and tear gas to halt a prison riot in Sanaa.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi blamed growing protests on poor economic conditions. Some 40 percent of Yemen's 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger. Qirbi said he wanted foreign donors to inject up to $6 billion to fill a five-year budget gap.

"What we need is really development and economic growth because the present political crisis is really as a result of the economic situation in Yemen," he said at a Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers' meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Protesters are demanding greater participation in a government largely led by Saleh's closest allies. They say they are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment, which is at 35 percent or higher.

Princeton's Johnsen said calls for foreign aid were a tactical move by Saleh to buy time to divide the protesters.

"Yemen wants more money to come in and Saleh wants to try and fragment the protesters as much as he can. President Saleh is trying to string this out as long as possible in the hopes he can pit different interest groups against one another," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Sanaa, Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Mahmoud Habboush in Abu Dhabi; Additional reporting and writing by Erika Solomon and Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Andrew Roche)