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Why Yemen's youths are not bowing to government pressure, violence

Despite brutal attacks against them throughout the past week, Yemen’s idealistic youths continue to be the main voice pressing for regime change. Monday, they engaged in a peaceful sit-in.

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"We haven't yet reached the point in Yemen where it is clear that President Saleh will be forced to step down, but Yemenis are, for the first time, beginning to believe that what happened in Tunisia and Egypt can also happen in Yemen, and that is a major change in the mindset of most,” he wrote by e-mail.

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In a press conference Monday morning, however, the president rejected demands to step down and said that if protesters "want power, they must reach it through the ballot boxes." He said the protests are part of an “influenza” spreading around the Middle East.

Youths weary of corruption, monarchy

These youths, more tuned into the rest of the world than ever before, say that they are tired of the corruption that riddles Yemeni society. Many of them are unemployed.

“I graduated from university in 2006,” says Noman Al Shurahy. “People told me that I had to pay 5,000 rials ($23) to get a job. Can you believe that, that I had to pay money to find a job?”

“We want the president to come from the people. Not Ali Saleh’s sons,” says Ruqaya Al Qawas, who was handing out cookies at the protest.

She echoed the common distrust protesters felt toward Saleh when he said in a conciliatory speech two weeks ago that there would be “no inheritance” in Yemen’s leadership.

Many protesters also express confusion as to why the United States continues to give aid to their president, who has ruled for 32 years. Because the threat from Al Qaeda has little or no effect on their lives, these young people don’t understand the crux of American policy toward Yemen – counterterrorism.

“Why do the Americans support the oppression of Saleh?” asks Faruq Abdelmalek.

Holding their ground

Protesters have vowed that they will not be intimidated by the plain-clothed thugs who have routinely attacked them.

On Saturday, after protesters held their ground and yelled “Don’t be afraid” when government supporters shot live ammunition into the air about three blocks away, the gunfire began to be directed at them. At least four protesters were shot, one of whom remains in critical condition.

After a week of violence, Yemen’s coalition of opposition parties finally pledged their support for the young protesters on Sunday. In a statement, the coalition said that they "warmly tribute the actions of youths and civil society" and would "unite with the young protesters" to demonstrate against "the continued oppression, tyranny, and corruption.”

But protester Adel Al Abasy says that the northern tribes who protect Saleh in times of trouble will make it difficult to bring about regime change. And most Yemeni men, he adds, are comfortable sitting back and chewing the popular narcotic qat on their afternoons, instead of joining the protests.

“If there was no chewing qat," he adds, "[revolution] would be easier."

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