Yemeni president tries to avert revolution as protests escalate
Rival protesters clashed in Yemen's capital today, with police firing live ammunition into the air.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 10:10 a.m.Skip to next paragraph
Both sides threw large stones and pieces of concrete at each other, and police shot live ammunition into the air. The opposition protesters, mostly students in their 20s, blocked their side of the street with tires set ablaze. The standoff lasted for about two hours until pro-government thugs descended on the demonstrators with sticks and pieces of broken metal.
"They've been throwing rocks at us all week, but today ... we fought back. We decided that we are going to defend ourselves," says Osama al-Asiri, an accounting student taking refuge inside the entrance of a house after he was struck with a piece of concrete. "This is a pure youth revolution."
Many are not convinced that an Egypt-style revolution can come to this impoverished country with a divided and disorganized opposition. As leaders across the Middle East feel the tremors of Egypt and Tunisia's uprisings, however, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has launched a campaign to stave off revolution in his country.
"Anybody who wants to reach power ... should pass through the ballot boxes, which are the only way, but not chaos, wrong mobilization and irresponsible utterance via media," said President Saleh in a Wednesday night speech to members of his ruling party and constituents from the northern, tribal-dominated Hajjah province.
But the image of Mr. Saleh as the guardian of stability, which he has long tried to maintain in the face of tribal tensions, limited resources, and the Arab world's poorest economy, is showing signs of fracturing.
Saleh himself has shown signs of concern, canceling a trip to the US and meeting with tribal leaders in an apparent effort to preempt any shift in their loyalties. And even as pro-government demonstrators make their voices heard in Sanaa's Tahrir Square, the overall tone of the protests has become more explicitly antigovernment.
Protesters today chanted the same slogan used by Egyptians: "The people want to expel the regime." When about 100 students peeled away from the main protest to march to the gates of Sanaa Univeristy campus around 1:30 p.m. this afternoon, they were cheered on by many on the streets as they passed. Children along the side of the street began to chant along with them.