By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf / Reuters
SANAA/ADEN: Tens of thousands of protesters flooded Yemen’s streets on Tuesday, dedicating a fresh “Day of Rage” to the 24 people killed in demonstrations demanding an end to the president’s three-decade rule.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a US ally against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, has failed to quell two months of protests in a country where half its 23 million people own guns, 40 percent live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.
Protesters are also angry at widespread corruption. Yemeni university graduates struggle to get jobs without connections and youth unemployment is high.
Yemen is also riven with regional strife, with Shiite rebels in the north and separatists in the south demanding fairer political participation.
Saleh has been meeting with tribal and regional military leaders to rally support, but with oil and water resources drying up, his cash-strapped government is no longer able to pay off allies to keep the peace.
Saleh offered talks to form a unity government on Monday. But the opposition swiftly rebuffed the offer, saying it was standing with protesters demanding he step aside.
In a meeting with religious leaders, also on Monday, Saleh warned that those behind the protests were dividing the country.
“They would not be able to rule for even one week,” he said, quoted by state media. “Yemen would be divided … into four pieces by those who are riding the wave of stupidity.”
Most violence in south
Most deaths since January were in the southern port city of Aden, where protesters and police have clashed regularly. Many complain that security forces have reacted more violently to protests in the south, which was once an independent state.
“With blood and soul we support you Aden,” protesters shouted on the streets of capital Sanaa. Al Jazeera television showed protesters making “V” for victory signs while others wore white headbands with “Leave” written in red.
Protesters in the last few days have chanted: “No to dialogue, no to dialogue, your leaving is the only option.”
Opposition to the 68-year old leader gained steam under students and activist leaders inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
“Victory is coming and it is near,” Hassan Zaid, an opposition leader, shouted to protesters in Sanaa. “We have one goal and one demand and that is the quick end of the regime.”
A top religious leader in Taiz, 200 km (125 miles) south of Sanaa, said he would join around 10,000 protesters who have been camped out in a central square for weeks.
Doctor kidnapped, unrest high
Tribesmen kidnapped an Uzbek doctor working in the province of Shabwa, an area of central Yemen where both separatists and al Qaeda militants are active, late on Monday.
Abdulhamid Jun was taken to the neighboring southern Abyan province, where an air strike against al Qaeda suspects in December 2009 killed dozens of people in the town of al-Maajala.
“They took him to pressure the government to hold the people behind the air strike accountable,” a tribesman in Shabwa told Reuters. “The people are upset with the government for not dealing with this issue.”
Jun was taken to a mountainous part of Abyan, where al Qaeda operatives are believed to be hiding and where several air raids have been conducted against suspected militant bases.
Yemen security forces have also come under attack in recent days. Two soldiers and an intelligence officer have been killed and at least 11 soldiers wounded. Four inmates escaped from a prison riot in the south that killed one prisoner.