Anti-government Rallies in Yemen Stay Calm
By Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post
Thursday, February 3, 2011
SANAA, YEMEN - Tens of thousands of pro- and anti-government protesters took to the streets of this capital Thursday in a peaceful but vocal tussle to shape the direction of their impoverished nation in the wake of the upheavals gripping the Arab world.
While many angrily demanded the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, others supported his staying in power, saying they viewed him as a leader who could keep the nation stable.
"We need freedom. Get out, Ali Abdullah Saleh, get out!" the crowd in one part of the capital chanted, waving banners that called for the end of corruption.
"No to chaos and destruction," the crowd in another part of the capital shouted, clutching large portraits of Saleh.
Despite predictions that the demonstrations could turn violent because of Yemen's tribal culture and abundance of weapons, Thursday's protests were largely peaceful, with only a few reports of minor violence.
Yemen's so-called "Day of Rage" was in stark contrast to the chaos unfolding in Egypt. By 1 p.m. local time (5 a.m. in Washington), the protesters had mostly dispersed, and the capital returned to normal, although police and soldiers remained stationed on many street corners.
Thursday's demonstrations, in fact, seemed intended to avoid the sort of violence that erupted in Cairo on Wednesday and Thursday, when supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clashed with anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square. Yemen's political opposition decided the move its protest from Sanaa's own Tahrir Square after the ruling party decided to stage its rally there.
Thursday's demonstration came a day after Saleh announced that he would not seek another term in office and would not anoint his son, Ahmed, as his successor, when his term ends in 2013. The move was widely seen as an attempt to prevent the sort of upheavals seen in Egypt and Tunisia.
Saleh also implored the opposition to cancel Thursday's rally. Instead, however, his decision appeared to have emboldened the opposition.
At Sanaa University, tens of thousands of protesters gathered to boldly denounce the regime and express their frustrations. It was one of the largest, if not the largest, demonstration this capital has seen in recent memory.
Many protesters wore pink, prompting some to dub their action as the "Pink Revolution," an allusion to Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution."
No one interviewed believed that Saleh would give up power voluntarily. Saleh promised in 2005 not to seek another term, only to change his mind a year later.
"We want him and his family to leave," said Faras Sharagbi, 30, who works in a government office. "He's a big liar. He has promised to leave office before."
Thousands also gathered at the pro-Saleh rally, but it was smaller than the anti-government one. The energy, though, was just as high, as Saleh's supporters danced and paraded in the streets.
"We want him as president. And we want Ahmed to be the next president," said Asia Ali Abdullah al-Qattabi. "The opposition is looking only after its own interests. They want to damage the country."