Thousands of anti-government protesters in Yemen stormed the capital's main university Saturday, preventing the first day of classes from beginning and tearing down pictures of the longtime leader whose ouster they seek.
The crowds are aiming to keep Yemen's protest movement alive and out on the streets as the school year begins. Protests since February have failed to push President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power. He is currently in Saudi Arabia recovering from wounds sustained during an attack on the presidential compound in June.
"No studying, no teaching until the president goes," the students chanted as they marched into the Sanaa university campus, which is near the epicenter of Yemen's opposition movement _ a protest camp occupying the capital's center since February. The protesters shut the doors of administrative buildings and tore down pictures of Saleh in the dean's offices.
Around the capital, at least 20 other schools were kept closed to students Saturday because many of the buildings are being used as outposts by government-linked gunmen and soldiers who defected to the opposition, said Fatma Mutahar, principal of Ayesha School in Sanaa and an Education Ministry official.
"Schools are for learning, not to serve as barracks," said Mutahar, who tried to negotiate with the gunmen to leave her school but failed.
Ayesha School is situated in Sanaa's city center, near the front line between anti-Saleh tribesmen and his own security forces who have been locked in a bloody standoff since May.
Highlighting the tense atmosphere in the capital, one soldier from a defecting military unit was killed and five injured during an attack on their checkpoint near the protest camp by Saleh forces early Saturday, a medical official said.
The unit has been protecting protesters from the government's crackdown and sent reinforcements to the area after the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Some parents said they won't risk sending their children to school. "I won't let my children go to school after seeing the gunmen inside," said Mohammed Nasser, a father of five.
Some students didn't seem to mind.
"I think this is the best year because the people carried out a revolution to build a new state," said Athar al-Naqeeb, a ninth-grader. "We want freedom, and we don't want oppression. If this works, we will be one of the best countries ever."
Also, more than 60 schools in the southern city of Aden are being used as shelters for people displaced by fighting between government troops and Islamic militants who have taken over several towns during Yemen's turmoil.
Yemen has nearly 6 million school students, with 850,000 enrolling in first grade this year, the Education Ministry said. There are 360,000 university students around the country of over 20 million people.