In Ye­men, thou­sands call for pres­i­dent’s exit

Protest, along with sim­i­lar rally in Al­ge­ria, echoes Tu­nisia up­ris­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY AHMED AL- HAJ

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.

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