Protest move­ment threat­ens di­vided Ye­men

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - WORLD WATCH - By ROBERT F. WORTH

Un­rest in the south could turn into a vi­o­lent in­sur­gency and fur­ther desta­bi­lize the coun­try.

Less than an hour’s drive out­side this di­lap­i­dated port city, the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment’s au­thor­ity is scarcely vis­i­ble, and a dif­fer­ent flag ap­pears — that of the old in­de­pen­dent state of South Ye­men.

The flags are one sign of a rapidly spread­ing protest move­ment across the south that threat­ens to turn into a vi­o­lent in­sur­gency if its de­mands are not met. That could fur­ther desta­bi­lize Ye­men, al­ready the poor­est and one of the most trou­bled coun­tries in the Arab world, and cre­ate a broader haven for al-Qaida.

The move­ment’s leaders say the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment — based in the north — has sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­crim­i­nated against the south, ex­pro­pri­at­ing land, ex­pelling south­ern­ers from their jobs and starv­ing them of pub­lic money. They speak with deep nos­tal­gia of the 128-year Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion in South Ye­men, say­ing the Bri­tish, who with­drew in 1967, fos­tered the rule of law, tol­er­ance and pros­per­ity. The north, they say, re­spects only the gun.

In re­cent months, calls for se­ces­sion have grown louder af­ter a bru­tal gov­ern­ment crack­down on demon­stra­tions and op­po­si­tion news­pa­pers. The move­ment’s leaders say they be­lieve in peace­ful protest, but their abil­ity to con­trol younger and more vi­o­lent sup­port­ers is fray­ing.

“It is too late for half mea­sures or re­forms,” said Zahra Saleh Ab­dul­lah, one of the few South­ern Move­ment leaders who agreed to be iden­ti­fied in print. “We de­mand an in­de­pen­dent south­ern repub­lic, and we have the right to de­fend our­selves if they con­tinue to kill us and im­prison us.”

The Ye­meni gov­ern­ment has largely dis­missed the move­ment as a small band of mal­con­tents and has re­peat­edly ac­cused its leaders of be­ing af­fil- iated with al-Qaida.

Move­ment leaders call that an ou­tra­geous per­ver­sion of the truth. They say they stand for law, tol­er­ance and democ­racy, and it is the north that has a his­tory of us­ing ji­hadists as proxy war­riors. But some hu­man rights work­ers say a shared ha­tred of the gov­ern­ment could be cre­at­ing a sense of unity be­tween some mem- bers of the move­ment — which is broad and loosely organized — and mem­bers of al-Qaida.

Per­haps a greater dan­ger, some say, is the spread of law- less­ness across the south if the move­ment’s de­mands for greater eq­uity are not ad­dressed and it grows more vi­o­lent.

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