6 killed, hundreds hurt as Yemen cracks down on protesters
SANA, Yemen — Yemeni security forces killed six people yesterday and wounded hundreds in the second day of a harsh crackdown on antigovernment protests, witnesses said. One of the dead was a 15-year-old student.
The assault with gunfire and tear gas was the toughest yet by the Yemeni government in a month of protests aimed at unseating President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years.
The violence began with a predawn raid on a central square in the capital, Sana, where thousands of prodemocracy protesters have been camped out for the past month to demand the ouster of Saleh, an ally in the Obama’s administration’s fight against Al Qaeda.
Doctors and eyewitnesses said security troops surrounded the square with police cars and armored personnel carriers shortly after midnight and began calling on protesters through loudspeakers to go home. At 5 a.m., security forces stormed in, firing tear gas and live ammunition.
Abdelwahed al-Juneid, a volunteer doctor working with the protesters, said around 250 people were wounded.
“We were performing dawn prayers when we were surprised by a sudden hail of bullets and tear gas,’’ said Walid Hassan, a 25-year-old activist. “It was total mayhem, a real battlefield.’’
In the city of Dar Saad in the southern province of Aden, police used live fire and tear gas to disperse a crowd of several thousand, killing three demonstrators, a local activist and a hospital official said.
In the port city of Mukalla in the southeastern province of Hadramout, a 15-year-old was shot to death when security troops opened fire on protesters. Twelve people were wounded in similar violence in Yemen’s southern province of Taiz.
Yemen’s president appeared to be one of the Arab leaders most threatened by the regional unrest inspired by prodemocracy revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. Demonstrators are demanding jobs and greater political freedoms.
The group of 10,000 loyal subjects was nearly triple the size of the opposition protests.
In street protests in the last 10 weeks, Jordanian opposition has been demanding more jobs, reduced food prices, wider public say in politics, and curbs to the king’s power, specifically the power to appoint prime ministers. Instead, they want to be able to elect their prime minister from a majority in Parliament.
Yesterday’s demonstrators were a mix of loyal Palestinian subjects and Bedouin tribesmen, who form the bedrock of support for the king. They included 23 lawmakers and 3,000 children.
There was no repeat of the violent scenes a day earlier when police backed by pro-government mobs drove crowds back from a different palace by firing rubber bullets and tear gas in a melee that injured dozens, according to witness accounts. In contrast, yesterday’s demonstration — which coincided with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates — was allowed to ring the palace without any police even in sight.
Gates said Bahrain and other Arab governments facing popular uprisings must move quickly toward democratic reforms or risk giving regional rival Iran a chance to exploit the instability.
The TAP agency said Abdallah Kallel, Abdelaziz Ben Dhia, and Abdelwaheb Abdallah were detained on suspicion of illegally obtaining money and other alleged crimes as part of a crackdown against the recently dissolved ruling party.
Tunisia’s interim authorities had previously placed the men under house arrest after Ben Ali fled into exile in mid-January after weeks of violent protests.