Thousands Protest Against Government in Yemen

January 27, 2011

By NADA BAKRI and J. DAVID GOODMAN, The New York Times

BEIRUT — Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in the country’s capital and other regions on Thursday to demand a change of government, in demonstrations that organizers said were inspired by protests in Tunisia that toppled the president there.

At least 10,000 protesters led by opposition members and youths activists gathered at Sanaa University and around 6,000 more elsewhere in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, news reports said.

The government responded by sending a large number of security forces into the streets, said Nasser Arabyee, a Yemeni journalist in Sanaa reached by phone.

“There are very strict security measures, antiriot forces,” he said, adding that security forces for the moment were closely monitoring the gatherings and that no clashes had been reported.

The demonstrations on Thursday followed several days of smaller protests by students and opposition groups saying they sought to remove President Ali Abdallah Saleh from power.

Through the morning, the protesters chanted slogans against Mr. Saleh, a strongman who, for more than 30 years, has ruled a fractured country beset by a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Mr. Saleh is a key ally of the United States in the fight against a Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda.

The protests were the latest in a wave of unrest touched off by monthlong demonstrations in Tunisia that lead to the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s authoritarian leader who ruled for 23 years and fled two weeks ago. The new Tunisian government issued an international warrant for his arrest on corruption charges Wednesday.

The antigovernment gatherings in Yemen also follow two days of violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Egypt, with the country bracing for another round of demonstrations on Thursday in defiance of a government ban. Egyptian protesters have called for an end to the 30-year-long rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who, like Mr. Saleh, has been an ally of the United States.

In an echo of demonstrations around the region, news reports quoted the protesters in Yemen as also calling for an end to corruption and abuse of power and demanding improvements in living conditions. To ease tensions, Mr. Saleh has promised to raise salaries for the army, by approximately $47 a month, and denied reports that he is preparing his son as his successor.

A pro-government rally, in another district of Sanaa, organized by Mr. Saleh’s party, attracted far fewer demonstrators, Mr. Arabyee said.

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