By Ahmed Al-Haj/ AP
SANAA: Government forces shot bullets and tear gas at demonstrators in Yemen’s capital and another city on Saturday as longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh resisted a diplomatic push for the resignation that hundreds of thousands of his own people were demanding in the streets.
In Sanaa, the capital, security men in plain clothes shot, beat and threw rocks at demonstrators at a downtown square where tens of thousands of people called for Saleh to step down, said Dr. Wasim Al-Qurshi, who was treating the injured at a makeshift first aid station.
He said 11 people were shot, including one man shot in the head, and that dozens of others were injured as they choked on tear gas or were crushed by other fleeing demonstrators.
In the southern city of Taiz, presidential guard units controlled by Saleh’s eldest son clashed with protesters, firing bullets and spraying plumes of tear gas into crowds of tens of thousands marching next to an elementary school, activist Nouh Al-Wafi said. The soldiers also clashed with other demonstrators in other parts of the city.
Some three people were seriously injured by gunshot wounds, while dozens choked on acrid tear gas, Al-Wafi said.
The deaths of four protesters in Taiz on Friday formed a rallying cry for the two demonstrations and others that drew hundreds of thousands of people across this impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula. More than 120 people have been killed since Feb. 11 in protests inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, according to an AP count.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has offered mediation and proposed that Saleh, Yemen’s ruler for more than 30 years, hand over power to his deputy in return for immunity from prosecution for him and his family. Saleh has offered to step down at the end of this year if an acceptable transfer of power is reached, but he rejected the proposal and lashed out at the country he considered to be its instigator, Qatar.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem recently told reporters that “we hope to reach an agreement that includes the resignation” of Saleh.
Yemen recalled its ambassador to Qatar on Saturday for consultation on bin Jassem’s statemetn, the official Yemeni news agency Saba said.
Saba said the president thanked the GCC leaders for their efforts to solve the crisis through dialogue.
Hours after the ambassador was recalled, Saba said bin Jassem sent a letter to his Yemeni counterpart, Abu Bakr Al-Qurbi, to clarify Qatar’s position.
The opposition suspects Saleh’s talk of stepping down is just an attempt to stall for time.
Yemen is wracked by a tribal rebellion in the north, a separatist movement in the south and the presence of an Al-Qaeda affiliate operating in the remote mountainous hinterlands. Saleh’s autocratic regime has been a US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda, but the US has been pressing him to negotiate his exit.
In Taiz, activist Ghazi Al-Samei said protesters were in the yard in front of the governor’s office and had been there since Friday. The demonstrators, joined by several members of parliament, are demanding the governor’s removal and trial.
Another activist, Abdel-Malek Al-Youssefi, said tanks were at Taiz’s outskirts to prevent people from other towns taking part in the rally and that many supporters of the ruling Congress Party changed their allegiances and joined the ranks of the opposition.
About 400 people were hurt in Taiz’s deadly protest Friday, and the director of a field hospital there, Dr. Sadeq Al-Shuja, said several of the injured had been shot. Saba said 23 policemen were among those injured but it did not say how they were hurt.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Saturday in other major cities, including Ibb, Al-Hudaydah and Hadramawt, in support of the Taiz protesters. Normal life was completely paralyzed in Aden, where government offices, schools, shops and services came to a standstill.
Protesters in Aden also burned a security vehicle and tires, and some sat on main roads, cutting off transportation through the city, said activist Faiza Abdul Raqib.