SANAA (The Guardian) – Yemen was hit by fresh protests today after the arrest of a prominent female activist who had called for the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Inspired by the Tunisian revolt, thousands joined noisy protests in Sana’a last week, in the first large-scale public challenge to Saleh in his 32-year rule. Yemeni authorities responded with the arrest today of the activist Tawakul Karman, a key orchestrator of the demonstrations.
Karman, a member of the Islamist party Islah, was seized by plain-clothed police officers in the early hours of the morning on charges of organising unlicensed demonstrations.
“The arrest of a woman in the middle of the night is something very uncommon here and it’s insulting to the people of Yemen,” said Abdullah al-Faqih, professor of political science at Sana’a University. “If they don’t release her soon she may become a figurehead like Mohamed Bouazizi [whose self-immolation inspired the Tunisian revolt].”
Khaled al-Ansi the general executive of Hood, The National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms, was among a number of journalists arrested during the protest. Speaking before his arrest he said: “They arrested [Karman] because she’s trying to transfer the Tunisian message to the Yemeni youth.”
Outside Sana’a University, riot police armed with water-cannons used batons and shields to disperse protesters. A cameraman working for the satellite station al-Arabiya had his camera confiscated and was briefly detained for filming the skirmishes. Another cameraman working for al-Jazeera was beaten by police, the Qatar-based station said.
“The heavy security is evidence that Yemen has no democracy and freedom of expression. This is the last gasp of the regime,” said Abdulkareem al-Khayati, 21, a student at Sana’a University.
Nasser Araybee, a Yemeni journalist for Cairo-based al-Ahram weekly said the protests, though small, were potentially dangerous for the government. “If there is no sign, or at least a pretence, of reform from the government then things will begin to escalate.”
Yemen’s 23 million citizens, among the poorest in the Arab world, have many grievances: the government is widely seen as corrupt and is abhorred for its association with the US in fighting al-Qaida. There are few political freedoms and the country is running out of water and oil reserves.
Faqih said: “The protests are significant but Yemen is a very different place from Tunisia: we have no middle class, a weak civil society and a president who relies on social not political ties. Many of his supporters will stay with him until the last day.”
Early this month Yemen’s parliament gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits, a measure that would allow Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in power past the end of his mandate in 2013.
Egyptians Torch Police Post in Suez
SUEZ, Egypt (Reuters) – Egyptians torched a police post in the eastern city of Suez early on Thursday morning over the killing of protesters in anti-government demonstrations earlier in the week, a Reuters witness said.
Protesters in Suez had on Wednesday set a government building and another police post on fire, as well as trying to burn down a local office of Egypt’s ruling party. Those fires were all put out before they engulfed the buildings.
The Reuters witness said police fled the post that was burned on Thursday before the protesters hurled petrol bombs.
Dozens more protesters gathered in front of the second police post later on Thursday morning demanding the release of their relatives who were detained in protests.
Demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, have raged since Tuesday across several cities, including Cairo and Suez. Officials say hundreds of people have been arrested.
All three protesters killed in demonstrations to date were in Suez. A policeman was killed in Cairo.(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Thousands March in Yemen to Demand Regime Change
SANAA (Reuters) – Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa on Thursday to demand a change of government, inspired by the unrest that has ousted Tunisia’s leader and spread to Egypt this week.
“The people want a change in president,” shouted protesters who gathered at Sanaa University for one of the demonstrations scattered across the city, in the largest of a wave of anti-government protests.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key ally of the United States in a war against a resurgent Yemeni arm of al-Qaeda, has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for over 30 years.
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. Police watched but no clashes were reported.
Protesters said they were demanding improvements in living conditions as well as political change. One banner read: “Enough playing around, enough corruption, look at the gap between poverty and wealth.”
A competing pro-government protest organized by Yemen’s ruling party in another district of Sanaa gathered a few hundred demonstrators, witnesses said.
At least 100 troops from Yemen’s security forces spread across a square where many banks are located, though there were no protesters there, a Reuters witness said.
Yemen, in the shadow of the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is struggling with soaring unemployment and dwindling oil and water reserves. Almost half its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less, and a third suffer from chronic hunger.
“We are partners in this nation and we won’t submit to exclusion. Look at Tunis and what it did. Yemen’s people are stronger,” protesters chanted at the university protest.
Mr. Saleh has tried to calm discontent, last week proposing constitutional amendments including presidential term limits with two terms of five or seven years.
This week he also promised to raise the salary of all civil servants and military personal by at least $47 a month.
Yemen, plagued by separatist rebellion in the south and trying to cement a fragile truce in the north, is also struggling to stamp out a resurgent wing of al-Qaeda that has based itself in Yemen.
‘Egypt on verge of revolution’
BEIRUT (Press TV) – An Egyptian uprising, inspired by the Tunisian revolution, is moving the North African country close to a tipping point of revolution, a political analyst says.
In an interview with Press TV, Gamal Wakim, professor of Middle East Affairs in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said, “for the first time in almost five decades, I can see an opportunity for the regime change in Egypt.”
According to Gamal, the country has reached a tipping point of revolution, which “has been awaited for too long.”
The rampant poverty along with bad social situations accumulated to the eruption of unrest in Egypt, which is likely to lead to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in the country, he went on to say.
Thousands of Egyptian protesters have taken to the streets since Tuesday in cities from Cairo to Alexandria, demanding ‘Mubarak should go.’
The demonstrators tore down posters of Mubarak, chanting, “Bread, liberty, dignity,” and “We will follow Tunisia.” They also set parts of a government building in the port city of Suez on Wednesday.
Amid the riots, during which at least 6 people were killed and hundreds arrested, Mubarak’s son, Gamal, seen as his likely successor, reportedly fled to Britain together with his family.
The Egyptian demonstrations used the “the day of anger” slogan, inspired by the Tunisian street protesters, which successfully resulted in the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years.