Government foes, supporters stage peaceful protests

Thousands of people gathered in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa yesterday to call for the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Thousands of people gathered in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa yesterday to call for the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
By Laura Kasinof and Michael Slackman
New York Times / February 4, 2011

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SANA, Yemen — Thousands of pro- and antigovernment demonstrators held peaceful protests in this impoverished capital yesterday, playing out themes that have rocked nations across the Arab world as autocratic leaders struggle to press back the demands of movements hungry for democracy, accountability, and the rule of law.

Yemen’s tribal culture and its heavily armed population raised fears of violence as events here seemed to unfold at a consolidated pace, with all sides trying to draw lessons from popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

But the events in the city appeared to end peacefully one day after the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, went on television to offer his own concession to increasingly large opposition protests. He promised that he would not run — and that his son would also not run — when his term expired in 2013.

He also saw to it that the capital was full of supporters when the opposition arrived.

“I came here today to take part in the rally against extremism and to promote democracy,’’ said Sadiq al-Qadoos, a progovernment demonstrator joined by thousands who were camped in Sana’s Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, for the past two days. “And to show I am against chaos.’’

The day’s events in Yemen were both driven by — and helped propel — a popular movement for change that drew its inspiration from the revolt in Tunisia that forced the president to flee into exile. Nationwide, crowds of protesters turned to the streets in seven provinces, and while most were peaceful, one person was killed and seven were wounded in clashes between demonstrators and police in the southern port city of Aden.

Opposition protesters wore pink bandannas in Sana, a sign of what has become known as the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. The opposition crowd, riled up and sensing momentum, had hoped to demonstrate in Tahrir Square but instead had to move to the campus of Sana University. Still, the excited crowds chanted, “The people want to topple the regime.’’

“We need real reforms,’’ said Watha Thaha, 23, a student at Sanaa University who was wearing a pink bandanna and a scarf with the Palestinian flag. “Otherwise, there will be a revolution.’’

Meanwhile, in Jordan, King Abdullah II acknowledged yesterday that reforms in the country have slowed, and he urged the nation’s Muslim opposition to work with the new government to give the people a greater say in politics.

The appeal comes a day after the powerful Muslim Brotherhood rejected an offer from the country’s newly appointed prime minister to join his Cabinet, saying the new premier is the wrong person to introduce reforms.

The Royal Palace said in a statement that Abdullah, who is under growing public pressure to give Jordanians a greater voice in public life following the upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt, told leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups that he wanted “everyone to work together to achieve needed progress in the political reform process and increase the citizens’ participation in decision-making.’’

“Political reform in Jordan has slowed and stumbled,’’ Abdullah said. He said the lack of progress has “cost the country lost opportunities because some had put their personal interests ahead of Jordan’s own interests.’’

Jamil Abu-Bakr, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, said the king did not try to persuade the Islamist group during yesterday’s meeting to reconsider its refusal to join Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit’s new Cabinet.

“This matter was not brought up at all,’’ he said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. top stories on Twitter

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