Yemenis hit streets, demand ruler’s ouster

Inspired by protests in Tunisia and Egypt

Protests for democratic reforms spread Thursday from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen, where thousands of people gathered in the capital, Sanaa, to demand that the impoverished country’s longtime president step down.

Yemen, which has become a base for al Qaeda terrorists, is a key U.S. ally in counterterrorism intelligence and operations, having allowed U.S. drone attacks on terrorist suspects. It also received about $300 million in military and development aid from the U.S. last year.

The Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen has a population of about 28 million, nearly half of whom live below the poverty line; it also has high rates of unemployment and rampant corruption in its government.

In recent months, Yemenis have been angered by moves to amend the nation’s constitution to extend the term of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years. His current term expires in 2013.

Thursday, in the southern provinces of Dali and Shabwa, riot police used batons to disperse protesters, while thousands took to the streets in al-Hudaydah province, an al Qaeda stronghold along the Red Sea coast, according to the Associated Press.

ENOUGH: Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Sanaa, Yemen, rally Thursday for an end to the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after efforts to amend the constitution to extend his term. The recent uprising in Tunisia inspired protests in Yemen and Egypt. (Associated Press)

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ENOUGH: Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Sanaa, Yemen, rally Thursday for ... more >

“We gather today to demand the departure of President Saleh and his corrupt government,” opposition member of parliament Abdulmalik al-Qasuss told demonstrators in Sanaa, according to Agence France-Presse.

A popular uprising in Tunisia that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, another longtime autocratic leader, on Jan. 14 has provided the impetus for pro-democracy protests that erupted this week in Egypt and Yemen.

In the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, a 28-year-old unemployed man set himself on fire to protest the country’s economic troubles, according to an AP account.

Such incidents have been reported from across the region since Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor, set himself of fire in December, sparking Tunisia’s so-called Jasmine Revolution.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland in College Park, said it was only a matter of time before the lid blew off the pent-up frustration in the Arab world.

“The protests in Tunisia were empowering because Tunisians were able to break through the barrier of fear created by the regime,” Mr. Telhami said.

More protests are planned in Yemen and Egypt on Friday.

Mohammed Al-Basha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, said the protests had been peaceful and there were no major clashes or arrests.

The Yemeni government “strongly respects the democratic right for a peaceful assembly,” Mr. Al-Basha said in a statement.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, meanwhile, said the “status quo in the Middle East and North Africa is not sustainable.”

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.


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