Embattled Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh has sacked one of his ministers as the month-long protests against his 32-year rule shows no sign of ending. Hamoud al-Hattar is the scapegoat for failing to find a way to deal with opponents who are demanding Saleh step down. Protesters in the capital Sana’a are fed up with a lack of democratic reform, widespread corruption and human rights abuses by Saleh, his family and allies. Saleh refuses to step down until his term of office expires in 2013. (photo:STR/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Yemeni authorities have deported four western journalists over their coverage of the protests. Security forces raided an apartment and arrested two British and two American journalists and kicked them out of the country. They follow the deporting of an American journalist and Italian photographer a day earlier. Briton Oliver Holmes said that said that one of the agents told him they were all being kicked out because of their coverage of the protests. “We have all been reporting on the use of violence by the police,” Holmes told Al Jazeera.
The flashpoint has moved to the north eastern Marib province where the governor was stabbed, police have opened fire on protesters, and rebels have blown up an important oil pipeline. Marib is a predominantly tribal area implacably opposed to Saleh’s regime. Saleh’s man in the province Governor Naji al-Zaidi was caught up in a large demonstration outside the local government building yesterday. Security troops fired live ammunition and tear gas, injuring around 37 people. In the melee, a group of men stabbed al-Zaidi and four bodyguards with daggers before he was flown by helicopter to a military hospital in the capital.
Meanwhil tribal fighters sabotaged an oil pipeline this morning and cut the road between the Marib’s gas fields and the capital. Local police said the pipeline connecting Marib's oil fields to the Red Sea was ablaze and the main road between Sanaa and Safer was cut off disrupting tanker traffic and jeopardising gas supplies to the capital.
There have been grumblings in the Arab world’s poorest country for several years over Saleh’s autocratic regime and the likelihood of an eventual transfer of power to his son Ahmed Saleh. His troubles are compounded by an insurgency by Houthi rebels in the north, a separatist movement in the south and a large Al Qaeda threat. But it took January’s Tunisian revolution to galvanise the opposition into action. Large street protests flooded the capital and Saleh offered reforms including presidential term limits and voter registration. The opposition and protesters rejected the proposals saying the reforms did not ensure that Saleh could not run again.
Emboldened by success in Tunisia and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, protesters held a “day of rage” in early February. Unlike events in Egypt, the 20,000 strong Yemeni protest ended peacefully, though Saleh did make efforts to stifle them and his forces shot dead protesters in Aden. Protests continued through the month, gradually increasing in size and scope. Yemeni soldiers fired artillery at anti-government protesters in the northern village of Semla in Amran, killing two and wounding seven.
After his offer to form a national unity government was rejected, Saleh imposed a tight security cordon around Sana’a. His objective now is to stop more protesters joining 150,000 in the main square. They include tribesmen from Hamdan tribe who were angered when police killed one of their kinsmen. The Hamdan are not Saleh’s only headache. Sheikh Ameen al-Okaimi, chieftain of northern largest powerful tribe Bakil, staged a sit-in in Sana’a with a sign emblazoned "Welcome to the Liberation Land."
Where the protests have been most successful is in bringing Yemen’s deeply fractured opposition movements together. In the last election in 2006, Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress took 76 percent of the vote with the umbrella group Joint Meeting Parties taking 21 percent. Now the JMP has united with the tribal and Islamist Islah party bringing most of the anti-Saleh forces under one banner. But the Hashid tribal confederation and Houthi rebellion forces remain outside the tent and it would be unclear what role if any they would have in any post-Saleh government. Indeed it is likely secessionist movements will continue to agitate regardless of who reigns in Sana’a.