Saturday, April 2, 2011

Yemeni demonstrations grow bigger, but Saleh stays

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have demonstrated in the capital Sanaa and in villages and cities across the country on Friday in what appeared to be the largest demonstrations in more than a month. The largest gatherings were demanding president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
The anti-Saleh protests took place in at least 14 other provinces around the country. Witnesses said hundreds of thousands of people attended demonstrations in the provinces of Aden, Taaz, and Hadramout. The Sanaa crowd was supported by soldiers with anti-aircraft guns and Kalashnikov rifles, who set up half a dozen checkpoints around the square to prevent intrusions by president's loyalists.
Protesters, who had called for a 'Friday of Salvation' raised black cards, chanting 'Ali Leave'. Women and children, with hands, arms and faces painted in the colors of the Yemeni flag, or the word 'leave' joined the protests.
However in Sanaa, the capital, also large crowds demonstrated in favour of  Saleh. Saleh adresed them saying that  he would 'sacrifice his blood and soul and everything precious for the sake of this great people', by which he seemd to say that he is not going to leave soon.  The people, many of whom had been brought into Sanaa by busses organized by the ruling party, the General People's Congress, shouted 'the people want Ali Abdullah Saleh' in response.

 The political situation in Yemen is in a complete impasse. President Saleh lost control of much of the country as well as the backing of the most important tribal congregation of the Hashed. He nevertheless refuses to leave. He offered to stay till the end of his term in 2013, then  till the end of 2012, then to step down later this year, only to back off lateron, arguing that otherwise the country would turn into chaos. 
The  U.S. seems to back him, as they see in him an ally in te fight against Al-Qaeda. However, the opposition thinks that, on the contrary, Saleh himself was one of the epople who brought Al-Qaeda into the country on the first place. 
After the tragedy in Abyan, where about 150 people died in a blast in an ammunition factory, the number of accusations increases that Saleh is sowing chaos and playing the card of al-Qaeda in order to prove that he cannot be missed. Several individuals and groups pointed to the fact that the amunition factory in Jaar was taken over by islamists after the batallion that was supposed to guard it withdrew. Others went further and accused Saleh outright of staging the Jaar tragedy by using islamist proxies. It might be time for the Americans to think twice and withdraw their funds and support that Saleh is abusing. Many times things in Yemen are not what they seem to be. It is certainly not the first time that the Yemeni reality is beyond the gradsp of many Western diplomats and analysts.

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