Rocks, batons fly in Yemen protests

SANAA — Rocks and batons flew in central Sanaa on Monday as pro-democracy protesters clashed violently with police and supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, witnesses said.

Clashes between police and protesters also broke out Monday in the city of Taez, south of Sanaa, where thousands of people joined demonstrations against Saleh, witnesses there said.

In Sanaa, around 3,000 protesters marched from Sanaa University towards Al-Tahrir square in the centre of the capital demanding that Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years, step down, an AFP reporter said.

City streets around the square echoed to chants of “After Mubarak, Ali,” referring to the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who quit after 18 days of protests by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians centered on Cairo’s main square, also named Tahrir.

Shouts of “No corruption after today,” reverberated through the narrow streets, while some demonstrators brandished banners reading: “The people want to oust the regime” — slogans used by protesters in Egypt.

As the protesters got near the square, baton-wielding riot police moved in and clashes broke out, witnesses said.

Despite razor wire erected by security forces around the square, supporters of Saleh who have been camped at the square for days to thwart anti-regime demonstrations waded in to the demonstrators with batons, witnesses said.

The protesters responded by hurling stones at Saleh’s supporters.

There were no immediate indications of injuries but witnesses said that at least eight demonstrators were hurt in the Taez clashes.

Sanaa has been the scene of near-daily protests since January and last week supporters of the president took over Tahrir square, erecting tents to try to thwart the protesters.

Protests have becoming increasingly violent and on Sunday, riot police used batons to disperse a demonstration by an estimated 2,000 demonstrators in Sanaa, injuring a woman and making 10 arrests, according to witnesses.

Elected to a seven-year term in September 2006, Saleh has urged the opposition to resume dialogue aimed at forging a government of national unity.

The parliamentary opposition, grouped in an alliance known as the Common Forum which has previously led the protests, has suspended its participation in demonstrations after deciding to enter talks with the government.

The Common Forum said on Sunday it is “ready to sign a framework agreement this week … on (resuming) the national dialogue.”

Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), on Monday welcomed the statement.

In a statement, the GPC said it “welcomes the Common Forum’s consent to what came in the (Saleh’s) initiative” over resuming talks, freezing constitutional amendments and postponing elections.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, criticised Monday what it termed the government’s use of force in dispersing the protests.

“Without provocation, government security forces brutally beat and tasered peaceful demonstrators on the streets of Sanaa,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW director in the Middle East and North Africa region.

“The government needs to take full responsibility for this abuse.”

According to the rights group, “dozens of pro-government thugs… arrived and attacked the demonstrators” on Sunday using “batons, military assault rifles, and teargas guns.”

“Members of the security forces used batons to beat at least 20 demonstrators on their heads and backs, and beat and kicked others. They attacked two demonstrators with electro-shock tasers,” witnesses were quoted as saying.

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