Yemen

Thousands rally in Yemen against government

Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Thousands of Yemenis staged a demonstration Thursday in the capital, Sanaa, calling for the President to let go of power. Thousands of government supporters took part in counter-demonstrations, and government officials dismissed any resemblance to recent mass protests in Tunisia.

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Demonstrations called by the Common Forum opposition were held in four different parts of the capital, all calling for an end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule.

"We gather today to demand the departure of President Saleh and his corrupt government," said MP Abdulmalik al-Qasuss, an MP from the opposition Al-Islah (Reform) party.

Correspondent Khaled Hamadi in Sanaa says the anti-government rallies lasted about two hours, after which people went home.

Saleh's ruling General People's Congress (GPC) organised four simultaneous counter demonstrations, attended by thousands of government supporters.

Saleh has been president since 1978, and was most recently re-elected in September 2006 for a seven-year mandate. A draft amendment of the constitution currently being discussed in parliament could allow him to remain in office for life.

Hamadi said the opposition is unlikely to bring down the government through mass protests, like in Tunisia, because the opposition is not organised enough.

“They want [Saleh] to go, but they don’t have the power to do this… because they believe that they don’t have anyone to run the country nowadays,” explained Hamadi.

Common Forum is a coalition between Al-Islah, the main Islamist opposition, the Yemeni Socialist Party, as well as with other smaller factions, but it lacks cohesion, Hamadi says...

“At the moment, it’s very hard for the opposition to use the street against the president,” he said, adding that there is concern that the army and security forces are controlled by relatives of the president.

Given the situation, the opposition is calling for Saleh not to stand for election again in 2013, and they are calling for free and fair parliamentary elections in April.

“And also they’re calling for improved economic situation in the country, because the majority of Yemenis are living under poverty levels,” said Hamadi

Saleh has promised not to stand in 2013, but Hamadi says the opposition does not believe it.

“A few days ago he said he would not run again… But we don’t know if this is true or just trying to keep the country quiet and avoid the anger of the street,” he said. “The position parities don’t trust him anymore, because he already made a lot of promises.

Saleh has denied accusations that he wants his eldest son Ahmed, who heads the Presidential Guard, to take over after him.

"We are a republic,” he said in a televised address on Sunday. “We reject bequeathing [the presidency].”

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