- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Thousands of inmates rioted at a prison in the Yemeni capital Tuesday, taking a dozen guards hostage and joining the growing calls for the country’s president to step down. At least one prisoner was killed and 80 people were wounded, police said.

The unrest at the central prison in the capital, Sanaa, started late Monday when prisoners set their blankets and mattresses ablaze and occupied the facility’s main courtyard, a security official said.

Yemen has been rocked by weeks of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, inspired by recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that ousted those nations’ leaders. In a sign that the protests are gaining traction, graffiti calling for Mr. Saleh to step down surfaced Tuesday in his birthplace, village of Sanhan, for the first time since the protests began in mid-February.

Mr. Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the campaign against al Qaeda, has been in power 32 years.

On Tuesday, prison guards fired tear gas and gunshots in the air but failed to subdue the rioters, the security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. The prison revolt was still going on Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Residents close to the prison reported hearing gunfire and blasts and said troops were bringing in military reinforcements.

Abdelrahman Burman, a lawyer who heads a human rights organization called “Sajin” — Arabic for prisoner — said at least one inmate was killed by a bullet fired by riot police and more than 80 people were wounded, including 20 policemen and prison guards.

He said about half of the wounded were shot and the rest suffered breathing problems and fainting because of the tear gas.

A police official confirmed the casualty numbers. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

In Sanaa, the army deployed armored cars at junctions leading to the president’s office, the Central Bank, Sanaa University and sensitive government buildings.

Also Tuesday, large demonstrations were held in various parts of the country. In the southern port city of Aden, a crowd of women joined a demonstration after a young protester was shot in the head and critically wounded during a rally there the previous day.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in the Ibb province, calling on the government to bring to justice those responsible for a deadly attack there Sunday. Opposition activists blamed “government thugs” who descended on protesters camped out on a main square. One person was killed in that violence and 53 people were hurt.

Even before Yemen was hit by the wave of protests, the country was growing increasingly chaotic with a resurgent al Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south and an off-on Shi’ite rebellion in the north.

In an attempt to quell escalating protests, the president called for national dialogue after meetings Monday with the country’s top political and security chiefs. The state-run news agency said the conference would be held Thursday and would include thousands of representatives from across Yemen’s political spectrum.

But opposition leader Yassin Said Numan said there would be no dialogue unless Mr. Saleh agreed to step down by year’s end.

Mr. Saleh’s recent pledge not to run for re-election in 2013 has failed to quell the protests.

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