Egyptian demonstrators prepare for showdown
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.”