Heavy security after Yemen declares emergency

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:51 AM
Heavy security after Yemen declares emergency

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) - Troops and security forces blanketed Yemen's capital on Saturday, enforcing a state of emergency imposed after rooftop snipers shot dead up to 42 anti-government protesters a day earlier.

Hundreds of soldiers moved into the streets to set up checkpoints and enforce a ban on carrying firearms in public, going so far as to check for hidden guns inside the ornamental scabbards of traditional Yemeni jambiya daggers.

"I was late arriving at my office today because of the long inspection queue," said Hussein Taha, a government employee in Hadda, on the southern edge of Sanaa.

Tanks were also deployed for the first time in weeks of civil disturbance in which over 70 people have been killed. With mass protests convulsing the Arab world, Yemen became the second country in the region to announce emergency rule this week. Bahrain declared martial law on Tuesday.

Two out of every five Yemenis live on less than $2 per day. The U.S.-allied government faces separatists in the south, maintains a shaky truce with rebels in the north and is fighting an aggressive local wing of al Qaeda.

Friday's bloodshed prompted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, struggling to keep his grip on power after 32 years of rule, to declare a state of emergency for 30 days that restricts freedom of movement and the right to gather. It also grants police greater leeway in carrying out inspections and arrests.

Snipers opened fire from rooftops on crowds that flocked to a protest encampment at Sanaa University after Friday prayers. Protesters said they had caught at least seven snipers carrying government identity cards, but Saleh denied this, blaming gunmen among the protesters for the violence.

Yemen's opposition said there was no way it could negotiate with Saleh's government after Friday's bloodshed.

"Sending tanks to the streets is a sign that the regime is in a state of panic. But Yemenis are determined to move forward with their peaceful revolution until the fall of the regime," said opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri.

Mohamed Saleh Qara'a, a prominent member of the ruling party, became the latest to defect from Saleh's government, following the resignation on Friday of Tourism Minister Nabil Hasan al-Faqih along with the head of the party's foreign affairs committee.

Qara'a told Reuters he quit because of the "completely unacceptable" violence against protesters.

Saleh has rejected demands to step down immediately, promising instead to leave office when his term expires in 2013 and offering a new constitution giving more powers to parliament.

In the southern port city of Aden, police shot and wounded six protesters as they tried to disperse demonstrators holding a sit-in in a main street, residents said.

"Tanks don't scare us. They have killed dozens of us and hundreds were wounded. And we are not leaving until Ali Abdullah Saleh leaves," said Abdullah Saif, one of the protesters.

As Saleh's government hardened its stance toward increasingly entrenched opposition, the United States and France both condemned the violence on Friday. U.S. President Barack Obama urged authorities to protect peaceful protesters and said those responsible must be held accountable.

(Writing by Reed Stevenson, editing by Mark Trevelyan)