In Yemen, thousands call for president’s exit
Protest, along with similar rally in Algeria, echoes Tunisia uprising
Aden, yemen — Drawing apparent inspiration from the revolt in Tunisia, thousands of Yemenis demanded their president’s ouster Saturday in a noisy demonstration that appeared to be the first largescale public challenge to the strongman’s 32-year rule.
Clashes also broke out Saturday in Algeria, as opposition activists there tried to copy the tactics of their neighbors in Tunisia who forced the North African country’s longtime leader to flee more than a week ago.
Yemen’s 23 million citizens have many grievances: They are the poorest people in the Arab world; the government is widely seen as corrupt and is reviled for its alliance with the United States in its fight against al-Qaeda; there are few political freedoms; andthe country is rapidly running out of water.
Still, calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down had been a line that few dissenters dared to test.
In a reflection of the tight grip Saleh’s government and its forces have in the capital — outside the city, that control weakens dramatically— Saturday’s demonstration did not take place in the streets but was confined to the grounds of the University of Sanaa.
About 2,500 students, activists and opposition groups gathered there and chanted slogans against the president, comparing him to Tunisia’s ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whose people were similarly enraged by economic woes and government corruption. “Get out, get out, Ali! Join your friend, Ben Ali!” the crowds chanted. About 30 protesters were arrested.
Since the Tunisian turmoil, Saleh has ordered income taxes slashed in half and has instructed his government to control prices. He also ordered a heavy deployment of anti-riot police and soldiers to several areas in the capital and its surroundings to prevent any riots.
Besides the battle with al-Qaeda’s local franchise, which has taken root in the country’s lawless mountain areas, Yemen’s government is also trying to suppress a secessionist movement and a separate on-and-off rebellion in the north.
In Algeria, meanwhile, helmeted riot police armed with batons and shields clashed with rock-and chair-throwing protesters who tried to march in the capital, Algiers, in defiance of a ban on public gatherings.
At least 19 people were injured, the government said, but an opposition party official put the figure at more than 40. Aomar Ouali in Algiers contributed to this report.