'Saleh must go, and snipers won’t stop us', says Yemeni protester

Protests in Sanaa on Tuesday, April 5. Photo posted on Facebook.
 
Several incidents of deadly violence have marred ongoing anti-government protests in the southern Gulf state of Yemen, leaving more than 100 people dead. Yet the opposition movement only appears to be gaining steam. Our Observer watching the protests says the demonstrators are becoming more organised and determined.
 
Tensions rose sharply this week in a two-month-old standoff between opposition protesters and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is clinging to power after 32 years of rule.
 
On Wednesday, April 6, tens of thousands resumed protests demanding Saleh’s departure in the city of Taiz, south of the capital Sanaa, while thousands of others continued a month long sit-in at a central Sanaa square they have nickamed "Change Square". Earlier in the week, security forces and armed men in civilian clothes fired on protesters in Taiz and the Red Sea port of Hudaida, killing 21 people, while in a separate incident three protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Sanaa. On March 18, 52 people protesting in Change Square were shot dead by unidentified rooftop snipers.
 
The March 18 sniper shootings near Change Square. Video posted on YouTube by newstweet.
 
Saleh, who ignored a transition-of-power plan proposed by the opposition on Saturday, later accepted a mediation offer by neighbouring Gulf states. Soon after, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council met opposition figures at the Saudi embassy in Sanaa in an effort to end the weeks of turmoil.
 
The United States has long seen Saleh as a pivotal ally in the fight against al Qaeda, which has planned several terrorist attacks from the impoverished Gulf state. But on Monday, US officials indicated that they were stepping up pressure on Saleh to work towards a plan for transition of power.
 
Anti-government protests in Taiz on April 5. Video posted on YouTube by alrogaibi.

"Our movement is more hopeful and organised than ever."

Rafat Al-Akhali lives in Sanaa and  is participating in the protests in Change Square. He is a member of the Civic Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, an umbrella group of youth opposition movements.
 
Every time people die, it only galvanizes protesters even more. There was a huge surge in demonstrations after the March 18 shootings, and after the clashes at Change Square yesterday, the protesters actually gained a couple of blocks. We feel safe on Change Square, mainly because since March 21, part of the army that is loyal to Ali Mohsen [a prominent general who defected after the sniper shootings] has been protecting us there.

"We're organising a civil disobedience campaign throughout the country."
 
I have the impression that the movement has come a long way from its beginnings, when a handful of students, encouraged by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, held spontaneous protests. Today, the protesters have grouped into five or six umbrella coalitions, counting at least 50,000 members. On Saturday, we held a workshop to group all of our demands together. We agree on 90% of our demands, the core one being immediate regime change. There are some minor divergences, but I think we can work them out. Right now, we’re focusing on organising a civil disobedience campaign throughout the country, encouraging shops, schools and government offices to close for part of the day as a sign of protest.
 
We are very encouraged by the change of tone from the US and the EU; Globally, I’d say that our movement is more hopeful and organised than ever, and absolutely determined not to give in until Saleh resigns.”
 

Protests in Sanaa's Change square on Tuesday, March 5. In Yemen, men and women protest in seperate groups. Photos posted on the Facebook group 20,000,000 Yemeni.

"The situation could explode at any minute."

Nourdu (not her real name) works for the French embassy in Sanaa.
 
I’m getting ready to leave Yemen tonight. The French government has ordered all embassy personnel to leave the country. We’re told it’s only a temporary precautionary measure, but there’s no way of knowing how things will evolve.  The situation is very uncertain, and it could potentially explode any minute. Nearly everyone in Sanaa has a gun, and in a country as poor as Yemen, it’s not hard to pay people to turn against others – as the shootings on the 18th showed. Although [the shooters] haven’t been officially identified, it’s more than likely that they were hit men paid for by the ruling GPC party.
 
The opposition movement is visibly gaining momentum every day, but Saleh still counts hundreds of thousands of supporters, who come from villages around the country every Friday to protest in Sanaa. Even if Saleh does pay some tribal leaders to push their followers to protest in his favour, he can’t possibly be paying hundreds of thousands of people. I think that in terms of sheer volume, the opposition is outnumbered, and they know it.”
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.
Close