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Police kill 4 during protests on Yemen’s ‘Friday of Rage’

Antigovernment protesters shouted slogans during a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen. It was the ninth straight day of protests in Yemen inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Antigovernment protesters shouted slogans during a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen. It was the ninth straight day of protests in Yemen inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
By Ahmed Al-Haj
Associated Press / February 19, 2011

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SANAA, Yemen — Antigovernment demonstrators clashed with supporters of Yemen’s longtime ruler and riot police, who fired guns and tear gas to disperse the crowd on what organizers called a nationwide “Friday of Rage.’’ Four people were killed by police in the port of Aden, and 48 were wounded in the southern city of Taiz when someone threw what appeared to be a hand grenade into a crowd, witnesses said.

It was the ninth straight day of protests in Yemen inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Demonstrators are calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh — a key US ally in fighting Al Qaeda terrorists — who has ruled the country for 32 years.

President Obama condemned the reported violence in response to protests in Yemen, as well as in Bahrain and Libya, and he urged those governments to respect the rights of peacefully demonstrating citizens. He also expressed condolences to the families of those killed.

The US Embassy in Sanaa said it has seen “a disturbing rise in the number and violence of attacks against Yemeni citizens’’ at peaceful protests. It added that diplomats also saw reports of Yemen government officials “present during these attacks,’’ which it called “contrary to the commitments that President Saleh has made to protect the right of Yemeni citizens to gather peacefully to express their views.’’

Saleh is facing a restless population, with threats from Al Qaeda militants who want to oust him, a southern secessionist movement, and a sporadic armed rebellion in the north.

To try to quell the new outbursts of dissent, Saleh pledged to meet some of the protesters’ demands and has reached out to tribal chiefs, who are a major base of support for him. But a key chief from Saleh’s own tribe was critical of his policies and threatened to join the protesters — an apparent attempt to pressure the embattled leader of the world’s poorest Arab country.

For now, most of the protesters are students, educated professionals, and activists who used Facebook and Twitter in summoning people to the streets for the “Friday of Rage’’ following noon prayers. Tens of thousands responded in the capital of Sanaa, the southern port of Aden, and the political hotbed of Taiz. Some websites also referred to the day as “Friday of the Beginning.’’

Authorities used batons and tear gas against thousands of protesters in the tiny nation of Djibouti yesterday, the latest rally modeled after demonstrations across Africa and the Middle East, activists said.

About 6,000 people turned out at the demonstration, but only about 3,000 remained by the time authorities showed up, according to Democracy International, which cited an observer.

President Ismail Omar Guelleh has served two terms and faces an election in April, but critics lament changes he made to the constitution last year that scrubbed a two-term limit from the nation’s bylaws. Guelleh’s family has been in power for more than three decades, and yesterday’s rally was aimed at getting him to step down.

Djibouti is a city-state of 750,000 people that lies across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. It hosts several military bases, including the only US base in Africa.

In Yemen yesterday, many mosque preachers took a critical tone toward the government.

A preacher at the Sanaa University mosque spoke out against violence against demonstrators, telling many protesters who had gathered there: “We have been living for 30 years without purpose or hope.’’

Another Sanaa preacher, Imam Abdel Raqib Obad, urged people to join the protests and criticized security forces for “battling’’ youths.

Imam Jabri Al Yamani admonished the crowd that “protests must be peaceful and not scare and harm the people,’’ but as demonstrators marched toward the presidential palace afterward, the scene descended into violence. The crowd, chanting antigovernment slogans, was met by a heavy deployment of riot police and hundreds of Saleh supporters, similar to confrontations earlier this week.

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