Calgary Herald

Egyptian demonstrat­ors prepare for showdown

- JEFFREY FLEISHMAN AND ALEXANDRA SANDELS

The current unrest in the Middle East spread to impoverish­ed Yemen on Thursday as tens of thousands of protesters angry over unemployme­nt and political oppression marched through the capital Sana against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Instabilit­y in Yemen is a concern for the U.S., which has been working with Saleh’s government to defeat an entrenched al-Qaeda network that claimed responsibi­lity for last year’s attempted bombings of planes over U.S. airspace. Officials fear anarchy in the country would give terrorists a strategic base in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, has been unable to stem unemployme­nt and improve education, health care and sanitation in the region’s poorest nation. Anger toward him and his government has been steadily growing, especially among young activists and tribal leaders. He has also faced an intensifyi­ng secessioni­st movement in the south.

The U.S. has expanded its intelligen­ce and security roles in Yemen, and American military aid is expected to reach at least $250 million. But Washington has long been wary of Saleh, who runs a government based on patronage networks and has a history making questionab­le deals with enemies, including Islamic extremists, who years ago were tolerated.

“I saw many, many people today, in the thousands,” said Ahmed Arman, a human rights lawyer in Sana. “There were four demonstrat­ions and they were organized by the opposition. The majority of the demonstrat­ors were young people, but there were others there as well. They’re calling for political change — a complete reform of the political system.”

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