SAN’A, Yemen—A mine placed on the route of an antigovernment protest exploded prematurely, killing one and injuring two while raising tensions further in the country.
The explosion occurred in Lawder, a town notorious for antigovernment feeling. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The explosion comes a day after Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered police to protect all demonstrators after two were killed late Tuesday night in the capital city of San’a. The recent protests have been relatively peaceful in San’a, despite occasional conflict between pro- and antigovernment demonstrators hurling rocks and firing assault rifles.
“President Ali Abdullah Saleh instructed all security services to thwart all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between pro- and antigovernment protestors,” a presidential aide said in a statement late Wednesday night. “In addition, the directive demanded security services to offer full protection for the demonstrators” he added.The statement said the government will “continue to protect the rights of its citizens to assemble peacefully and their right to freedom of expression.”
On Tuesday, riot police tried to make a human barrier between the two sides but were overwhelmed by the protestors. The police shot in the air to disperse the demonstrators but ended up fleeing themselves after pro-government supporters started firing into the crowd, according to eyewitnesses.
An officer coordinating the police at the riots said it is impossible to control the crowds during the violence. “When you have 3,000 demonstrators behind you and 7,000 in front of you, you have to leave,” he said in an interview at the front lines of the protest on Thursday.
Antigovernment numbers in San’a have grown over the past two days, from around 2,000 to over 5,000 on Thursday, but the atmosphere is peaceful and at times jovial. Protestors, many of whom have been camped in front of San’a University for days, call out for the president to flee and dance during the day. A large demonstration is due here on Friday, the holy day of the week in the Islamic calendar.
Around 4,000 pro-government protestors are camped about a mile away and frequently walk up to San’a University, armed with batons and concealed weapons, to taunt the opposition. Antigovernment protestors say Yemen’s security forces pay the thugs, but the government denies any connection with its supporters who use violence.
In San’a a mixture of students and human rights activists run the protests. In the south, where Thursday’s bomb exploded, the students are joined by the Southern Movement, an umbrella association of political groups, some of which want the south of the country to secede.
The most deadly protests in Yemen have occurred outside the capital, where antigovernment sentiment has been simmering for years. In the port city of Aden, 12 protestors have been killed over the past two weeks, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.