SANAA: Yemeni protests demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule spread to a tribal area considered his political stronghold on Tuesday, and military vehicles deployed in the capital.
Around 10,000 protesters marched in the city of Dhamar, about 60 km (37 miles) south of Sanaa, resident said. Dhamar is known for its ties Saleh and is the hometown of Yemen’s prime minister and interior minister.
"Leave, leave," the protesters shouted, just two days after Saleh loyalists there held a similar-sized pro-government rally.
Rising protests in the Arabian Peninsula state, and a series of defections from Saleh’s political and tribal allies, have added pressure on him to step aside this year even as he pledges to stay on until his current term ends in 2013.
In Sanaa, where thousands of protesters have been camped out for weeks, military and police vehicles with armed security forces spread across streets around the capital, raising concerns that fresh confrontations could be on the way.
Sanaa has been quiet in recent days, following weeks of fierce clashes across the country between government loyalists and protesters that killed at least 27 people.
Yemen, neighbour to oil giant Saudi Arabia, was teetering on the brink of failed statehood even before recent protests. Saleh has struggled to cement a truce with Shi’ite Muslim rebels in the north and curb secessionist rebellion in the south.
Analysts say the recent protests, inspired by unrest that has toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and sparked an insurrection in Libya, may be reaching a point where it will be difficult for Saleh, an astute politician, to cling to power.
Minister blames poor economy
Yemen’s foreign minister blamed burgeoning anti-government protests on poor economic conditions in the impoverished state where 40 percent of its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.
He said he wanted foreign donors to inject up to $6 billion to fill a five-year budget gap and would present a development plan later this month to donor nations including European and Gulf Arab allies as well as the United States.
"What we need is really development and economic growth because the present political crisis is really as a result of the economic situation in Yemen," Abubakr AlQirbi told Reuters after meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) foreign ministers late on Monday in Abu Dhabi.
Last week, Saleh rejected a plan by the opposition coalition which would have implemented political and electoral reforms that paved the way for him to step down in 2011, instead accepting a more modest reform package from religious clerics.
Tens of thousands of protesters remain camped out in major Yemeni cities, staying awake through the night to hear speeches and sing national songs. Their tone has hardened by the day, with the opposition vowing on Monday to escalate protests.
South of the capital in Ibb, protesters marched through the streets to denounce a Sunday attack in which Saleh loyalists set upon an anti-government protest camp with clubs and stones. Around 60 demonstrators were hurt.
One of those wounded, Omar Atta, 18, died from his injuries Monday night, doctors said.
"My son sacrificed himself, this is my family’s gift to the revolution in Yemen," his father said in a tearful speech to protesters in Ibb on Tuesday.
Student activists in Ibb called on their peers to drop their studies and join them in the streets. "No studying, no teaching until the president falls," they chanted.