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Sanaa protests turn deadly after Yemeni forces open fire

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-19

At least 25 people were shot dead and hundreds wounded after anti-government protesters attempted to charge police lines in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Sunday, in the latest escalation of demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

REUTERS - At least 25 people were shot dead and hundreds wounded on Sunday when demonstrators camped in a square in Yemen’s capital Sanaa tried to charge police lines in a dramatic escalation of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A Reuters witness saw security forces firing at protesters from buildings overhead as well as using water cannon and tear gas to hold back tens of thousands of protesters, some wielding batons or throwing petrol bombs.
 
“Why are you still sitting here? Get moving everyone, move.  Go defend the martyrs’ honor,” blared a voice on loudspeakers in Change Square, where thousands have camped out in ramshackle tents for eight months to demand and end to Saleh’s 33-year rule.
 
Hundreds still in the camp answered the call, running and chanting “God is great, freedom!” as they streamed down the street. Clashes still appeared to be going on at the front of the 4 kilometre (2.5 mile) protest.
 
“This is the worst day I’ve seen in three months. We’re expecting more dead to come in,” said doctor Jamal al-Hamdani, who was treating dozens of patients with bullet wounds, rushed in on stretchers and laid out along blood-streaked floors.
 
Medics estimated that some 342 suffered gunshot wounds, with 36 in critical condition. At least one of the dead had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), they said.
 
Frustrated by their failure to oust Saleh, who is recovering in neighbouring Saudi Arabia from a June assassination attempt, protesters were keen to ratchet up demonstrations.
 
“Escalation, escalation,” they chanted, running past large numbers of police loyal to Saleh. Soldiers from a general who had defected to support the protests, who pointed machine guns and RPGs out from behind sand-bagged street corners.
 
Some protesters returned to Change Square covered in white sheets, their names and date of death scribbled on a sheet of paper over their chest.
 
Tawfiq, 23, wiped away tears as he cradled his 33-year-old cousin’s head, who died from a gunshot to his stomach.
 
“We protested and camped here together since the beginning,” he said, surrounded by sobbing mourners lifting their arms to the sky. “I turned around and saw him fall. I tried to hold together the wound. I can’t bring myself to call his parents.”
 
Other protesters threw petrol bombs at security forces and set a police car ablaze, in turn setting fire to a nearby electrical station.
 
Protesters appeal to UN
 
After a long period of relative quiet, protest organisers had planned to ratchet up demonstrations this week after a long period of relative quiet. Some privately told Reuters they had anticipated the march would spark a surge in violence.
 
Politicians and diplomats had expressed optimism in recent days that a power transition deal, thrice rejected by Saleh, would soon be signed in his name by the vice president.
 
Sunday’s unrest may unsettle any political progress.
 
“This massacre will not pass without punishment ... we call on the United Nations to end its silence and take decisions to protect the Yemeni people,” the National Council, a protester council, said in a statement.
 
The ruling party blamed gunmen belonging to opposition parties for opening fire on the march.
 
“The escalation of violence by extremist (opposition) leaders aimed to thwart the efforts of local, regional and international efforts to restore the political process and move all parties to the dialogue table,” they said in a statement.
 
Tensions have been simmering in Sanaa in recent days, with shelling and exchange of gunfire in some neighborhoods. Earlier on Sunday, fighting broke out in a northern district of Sanaa, the latest breach of a ceasefire between the tribesmen troops loyal to Saleh.
 
Shelling could be heard near the home of a prominent anti-Saleh tribal leader in the Hasaba district, the site of weeks of fighting. The family of Sadeq al-Ahmar said the Republican Guard, commanded by Saleh’s son, had shelled their house.
 
The United States and Saudi Arabia fear unrest in Yemen will embolden al Qaeda’s Yemen-based regional wing to launch strikes in the region and beyond. Local diplomats are also wary of tensions that could bubble over into military escalation in and around the capital.

 

Date created : 2011-09-19

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