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Hundreds of Thousands Rally For & Against Yemeni Government

March 25, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Middle East, Protests with 0 Comments

Huge rival rallies are taking place in Yemen today as hundreds of thousands of pro- and anti- government demonstrators take to the streets of the capital city of Sanaa. The BBC reports that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh addressed a massive crowd of supporters, urging them to “stand firm.”

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for more than 30 years, appeared in a fancy suit and sunglasses as he addressed the crowd. “We don’t want power,” he said of his authoritarian regime. “But we need to hand power over to safe hands, not to sick, resentful or corrupt hands. We are against firing a single bullet and when we give concessions, this is to ensure there is no bloodshed. We will remain steadfast and challenge them (the opposition) with all power we have,”

Saleh may be “against firing a single bullet,” but plenty of bullets were fired last Friday when his security forces massacred as many as 50 demonstrators at a peaceful protest. The human rights advocacy group Amnesty International warned the Saleh regime against slaughtering its opponents, saying “the government cannot just shoot its way out of this crisis.”

In another part of Sanaa, hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered, chanting anti-Saleh slogans and waving red cards with “LEAVE” written on them. “We deserve a better life than this,”  one female demonstrator told the BBC. “We deserve a better life full of democracy and freedom and people speaking their minds without any kind of fear or any kind of limitation.”

“I came here to get rid of this butcher because he killed our comrades,” student protester Abdullah Jabali said of Saleh.

There are growing concerns that Yemen’s divisions could lead to civil war, nothing new for this country that has experienced three of them in the last half century. The Arab world’s poorest nation, Yemen is a key US ally in the war against al-Qaeda, which has established a strong presence in the country. The attack on the USS Cole took place here in 2000, and two recent attempted terror attacks against the US– on cargo planes last October and the Christmas 2009 “underwear bomber” plot against a US-bound airliner — both originated in Yemen.

The Saleh regime has responded to the latest unrest by granting sweeping emergency powers to state security forces, including the power to detain suspects and prevent demonstrations. But all the powers in the world won’t stop the hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who are willing to give everything– including their lives– so that one day soon they may be free.

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