Clashes Escalate in Yemen; at Least 12 Protesters Are Killed
By Laura Kasinof and J. David Goodman
The New York Times
April 4, 2011
SANA, Yemen — Deadly violence broke out Monday across Yemen amid signs that the United States had concluded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a longtime ally, must be eased out of office.
Security forces and plainclothes government supporters opened fire from rooftops and the street on tens of thousands of protesters, according to witnesses, as clashes spread for a second day through the central city of Taiz. At least 10 people were killed, the official Saba news agency said; a doctor at a local hospital said 12 people had died and 50 were wounded in the gunfire.
In the western port city of Al Hudaydah, two protesters were killed Monday evening by gunfire from plainclothes government supporters during a march on the presidential palace there. Saba confirmed the deaths.
The violence in Taiz, where tens of thousands have staged a sit-in for more than six weeks, was the deadliest seen there and came amid signs that the United States had concluded that President Saleh must give way. Protesters have demanded that he step down immediately.
Yemen’s coalition of opposition political parties condemned the violence and implored foreign powers to “quickly intervene to stop President Saleh and his entourage from shedding more Yemeni blood.”
Witnesses said the clashes in Taiz on Monday began when protesters tried to march on a presidential palace two miles from the neighborhood where demonstrators have been staging the sit-in.
Security forces confronted the crowds and tried to prevent them from continuing to the palace, using tear gas before firing bullets into the air and then at protesters as others fired from rooftops around the protesters’ route, witnesses said.
The Associated Press, citing witnesses reached by telephone, said some protesters had been trampled by fleeing crowds.
“There were people dressed in both soldier uniforms and civilian clothes shooting live bullets from rooftops,” said Abdul Habib al-Qadasy, 47, an engineer who was at the protest in Taiz.
The violence resembled a crackdown two weeks ago in the capital, Sana, when snipers linked to the government fired from buildings in an effort to prevent protesters from marching. More than 50 people were killed.
While acknowledging the outbreak of violence in Taiz, the government gave a different account of how it began, saying the police had intervened only to break up a clash between protesters and government supporters.
“They went to one very crowded street in Taiz and planned to sit,” a high-ranking government official in Sana said of the protesters. “They took about 300 people. The shopkeepers and the residents on that street said; ‘Please don’t. If you sit here, you are going to hurt us.’ And so they started fighting and the police came.”
The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the clashes, said he had spoken to the governor of Taiz, who said the security forces had fired shots only into the air. The official suggested that those who died had been shot in an exchange of gunfire between plainclothes government supporters and armed protesters.
“The protesters have a plan of escalation,” he said.
Until recently, demonstrations in Taiz have been largely confined to one area surrounded by security forces and civilian-run weapons checkpoints. But in the last few days, protesters have begun marching outside that area, apparently in an effort to ratchet up pressure on the government.
Protesters also staged simultaneous large marches in two other areas of the city, and hundreds marched in Al Hudaydah, where the security forces fired tear gas and shot into the air to disperse the crowds. In addition to the two people who were killed, dozens were reported injured, including four police officers, according to the state news agency.
On Monday in Sana, protesters reacted to reports of the violence in Taiz by trying to march about a half-mile south of their own sit-in area, according to Adel al-Suraby, a student protest leader. Men in civilian clothes reacted by throwing stones at the protesters, Mr. Suraby said, hurting at least five people.
Some protesters said the violence in Taiz presented an opportunity for the United States to become directly involved in ending Mr. Saleh’s 32-year rule.
“We love America, and we need America’s help,” Mutahar Sufan, a doctoral student, said Monday at the demonstration in Sana. “We don’t want to hear about negotiations between America and Saleh, or we don’t want to hear it from the media that they want Saleh to leave. We want America to say it directly so we believe it.”
Laura Kasinof reported from Sana, and J. David Goodman from New York.