Saturday, March 19, 2011

Yemen in state of emergency after protest massacre

Four articles:

Yemen in state of emergency after protest massacre
From rooftops, snipers kill 46 Yemeni protesters
5 protesters killed in Syria, activist says
Bahrain army demolishes monument at Pearl Square

Yemen in state of emergency after protest massacre

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari March 18, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) – Gunmen on rooftops shot dead up to 42 protesters at an
anti-government rally in Sanaa after Muslim prayers on Friday, enraging
the opposition and prompting President Ali Abdullah Saleh to declare a
state of emergency.

Medical sources and witnesses told Reuters that Yemeni security forces and
plainclothes snipers, who protesters said were government security men,
had opened fire on the crowds. The Interior Ministry put the death toll at
25, but doctors said 42 people had died and at least 300 were injured.

Saleh, struggling to maintain his 32-year grip on power in the
impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, said the deaths had occurred in
clashes between demonstrators and other citizens at a protest encampment
at Sanaa University.

"I express my extreme sorrow for what happened today after Friday prayers
in the university district," Saleh told a news conference in Sanaa,
blaming gunmen among the protesters for the violence.

"The police were not present and did not open fire," he said. "It is clear
there are armed elements inside these tents and they are the ones who
opened fire."

He declared a 30-day state of emergency that gives wider powers to
security forces and bars citizens from bearing arms in public. A curfew
was being discussed.

Yemen, home to an active al Qaeda wing, is the second country in the
region to announce emergency rule this week, after Bahrain's introduction
of martial law on Tuesday, which was followed by a major crackdown on

It was not clear if Saleh had the military power to enforce such an order,
with Yemen deeply divided and racked by weeks of civil disturbance in
which over 70 people have been killed.

Witnesses said security forces at first fired into the air on Friday to
prevent anti-government protesters from marching out of the Sanaa
University camp, which has become the focal point of the protest movement.

After the initial gunfire, the shooting continued from other directions
and the toll mounted. A news photographer was among the dead, the
U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said.

"After the prayers finished, some fires were started in the street leading
to the presidential palace. A large group of people headed that way to see
what was happening and were fired on from the rooftops," said Bashir
Abdullah, a witness.


Washington and France both condemned the violence, and U.S. President
Barack Obama urged authorities to protect peaceful protesters and said
those responsible must be held accountable.

"It is more important than ever for all sides to participate in an open
and transparent process that addresses the legitimate concerns of the
Yemeni people, and provides a peaceful, orderly and democratic path to a
stronger and more prosperous nation," he said in a written statement.

After the deaths, however, Yemen's opposition said there was no way they
could negotiate with Saleh's government.

"There is no longer any possibility of mutual understanding with this
regime and he (Saleh) has no choice but to surrender authority to the
people," said Yassin Noman, rotating president of Yemen's umbrella
opposition group.

Protesters said they had caught at least seven snipers who they said had
fired on the crowds.

"We arrested some snipers and we found in their possession ID cards from
the presidential guard and the special guard, and we will distribute
pictures of these at the appropriate time," activist Mohamed al-Sharaby

Saleh, also trying to cement a northern truce and quell southern
separatism, has rejected demands to resign immediately, promising instead
to step down in 2013 and offering a new constitution giving more powers to

A string of his allies have recently defected to the protesters, who are
frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment. Some 40 percent
of the population live on $2 a day or less in Yemen, and a third face
chronic hunger.

After the shootings, Tourism Minister Nabil Hasan al-Faqih became the
first cabinet member to defect, resigning his post and quitting the ruling
party. The head of the party's foreign affairs committee also left, as did
a former ambassador to Russia.

A member of the ruling party's central committee, Jalal Faqira, who heads
the political science department at Sanaa University, also quit the party
along with 50 other professors.

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

From rooftops, snipers kill 46 Yemeni protesters

By AHMED AL-HAJ and ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press March 18, 2011

SANAA, Yemen – A massive demonstration against Yemen's government turned
into a killing field Friday as snipers methodically fired down on
protesters from rooftops and police made a wall of fire with tires and
gasoline, blocking a key escape route.

At least 46 people died, including some children, in an attack that marked
a new level of brutality in President Ali Abdullah Saleh's crackdown on
dissent. Medical officials and witnesses said hundreds were wounded.

The dramatic escalation in violence suggested Saleh was growing more
fearful that the unprecedented street protests over the past month, set
off by unrest across the Arab world, could unravel his 32-year grip on
power in this volatile, impoverished and gun-saturated nation. The United
States, which has long relied on Saleh for help fighting terrorism,
condemned the violence.

The bloodshed, however, failed to dislodge protesters from a large traffic
circle they have dubbed "Taghyir Square" — Arabic for "Change." Hours
after the shooting, thousands demanding Saleh's ouster stood their ground,
many of them hurling stones at security troops and braving live fire and
tear gas.

They stormed several buildings where the snipers had taken position,
dragging out 10 people — including some the protesters claimed were paid
thugs. They said the men would be handed over to judicial authorities.

The protest in the capital, Sanaa, drew tens of thousands, the largest
crowd yet in Yemen's uprising. It began peacefully. A military helicopter
flew low over the square just as protesters were arriving after the main
Muslim prayer services of the week.

A short while later, gunfire rang out from rooftops and houses, sending
the crowd into a panic. Dozens were hit and crumpled to the ground. One
man ran for help cradling a young boy shot in the head.

Many of the victims were shot in the head and neck, their bodies left
sprawled on the ground or carried off by other protesters desperately
pressing scarves to wounds to try to stop the bleeding.

Police used burning tires and gasoline to block demonstrators from fleeing
down a main road leading to sensitive locations, including the president's

"It is a massacre," said Mohammad al-Sabri, an opposition spokesman. "This
is part of a criminal plan to kill off the protesters, and the president
and his relatives are responsible for the bloodshed in Yemen today."

Witnesses said the snipers wore the beige uniforms of Yemen's elite forces
and that others were plainclothes security officers. President Saleh
denied at a press conference that government forces were involved,
claiming that residents angry over the expanding protest camp had opened
fire. He ordered the formation of a committee to investigate.

Doctors at a makeshift field hospital near the protest camp at Sanaa
University confirmed at least 46 dead, three of them children. They spoke
on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the

A Yemeni photojournalist, Jamal al-Sharaabi, was among the dead, medical
officials said. He is the first journalist killed in the unrest.

Interior Minister Gen. Mouthar al-Masri, who is in charge of internal
security forces, put the number of dead at 25 and the injured at 200.

Opposition groups in Yemen held an emergency meeting later Friday in which
they defiantly called on all Yemenis to join in their peaceful protest.
The groups denounced Friday's violence, which they said was ordered by
Saleh. They also called on the international community and U.N. Security
Council to take "political and moral responsibility with measures to
protect civilians."

The United States, which supports Yemen's government with $250 million in
military aid this year alone to battle one of al-Qaida's most active
franchises, condemned the attack on protesters.

"Those responsible for today's violence must be held accountable,"
President Barack Obama said. He called on Saleh to adhere to his public
pledge to allow peaceful demonstrations.

Instead, Saleh declared a 30-day nationwide state of emergency that
formally gave his security forces a freer hand to confront demonstrators.
The declaration bars citizens from carrying and using weapons.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "deeply troubled," said his
spokesman, Martin Nesirky. He "reiterates his call for utmost restraint
and reminds the government of Yemen that it has an obligation to protect

Demonstrators are demanding jobs, greater political freedoms and an end to
government corruption.

In the latest defection by a political ally of the president, Nabil
al-Faqih, the Yemeni tourism minister, resigned Friday from his Cabinet
position and from the ruling party to protest the killings.

"This is the least I can do," he said. Al-Faqih is the second minister to
quit and the latest of several politicians to resign from Saleh's Congress

Throughout the unrest, security forces and government supporters have used
live fire, rubber bullets, tear gas, sticks, knives and rocks against the
protesters, who have only grown in number in Sanaa and in many other
cities around the nation. The protesters say they won't go until Saleh
does and have rejected offers to discuss a unity government.

"They want to scare and terrorize us. They want to drag us into a cycle of
violence — to make the revolution meaningless," said Jamal Anaam, a
40-year-old activist camping out in the protest site.

He said government opponents would not follow the example of their
counterparts in Libya who took up arms against Col. Moammar Gadhafi. "They
want to repeat the Libyan experiment, but we refuse to be dragged into
violence no matter what the price," he said.

Friday's violence showed the government of Saleh and his family are
increasingly worried about losing power, said Gregory Johnsen, an expert
on Yemen at Princeton University.

"He has been in power for more than three decades and he's falling back on
what he knows best, which is increasingly violent methods."

The tactic is unlikely to work, he predicted.

"Yemen does not have a population that's easily cowed, so I don't think
they will be put out by fear of death," he said. "It's a heavily armed
country. Many of the people there are quite confident and capable of
putting security into their own hands."

Saleh and his weak government have faced down many serious challenges,
often forging tricky alliances with restive tribes to delicately extend
power beyond the capital. Most recently, he has battled an on-and-off,
seven-year armed rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the
south, and an al-Qaida offshoot that is of great concern to the U.S.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which formed in January 2009, has moved
beyond regional aims and attacked the West, including sending a suicide
bomber who came terrifyingly close to blowing up a U.S.-bound airliner
with a bomb sewn into his underwear. The device failed to detonate

Yemen is also home to U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is
believed to have offered inspiration to those attacking the U.S.


Karam reported from Cairo.

5 protesters killed in Syria, activist says

By BASSEM MROUE and ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press March 18, 2011

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces launched a harsh crackdown Friday on
protesters calling for political freedoms, killing at least five people
and marking the gravest unrest in years in one of the most repressive
states in the Mideast, according to accounts from activists and social

Mazen Darwish, a prominent Syrian activist in Damascus, said at least five
people were shot and killed when security forces tried to disperse
hundreds of protesters in the southern town of Daraa, near the Jordanian
border. He cited eyewitnesses and hospital officials at the scene.

Friday's violence happened during one of several demonstrations across the
country in Homs, Banyas and the capital, Damascus. But only the Daraa
protest turned deadly, Darwish said.

Serious disturbances in Syria would be a major expansion of the wave of
unrest tearing through the Arab world for more than a month in the wake of
pro-democracy uprisings that overthrew the autocratic leaders of Tunisia
and Egypt. Syria, a predominantly Sunni country ruled by minority
Alawites, has a history of brutally crushing dissent — including a
notorious massacre in which President Hafez Assad crushed a Muslim
fundamentalist uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, killing thousands.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned about the
reported deaths in Daraa and said the use of lethal force against peaceful
demonstrators was unacceptable.

"The Secretary-General believes that, as elsewhere, it is the
responsibility of the government in Syria to listen to the legitimate
aspirations of the people and address them through inclusive political
dialogue and genuine reforms, not repression," said his spokesman, Martin

On Friday, Syrian forces used water cannons, batons and gunfire to beat up
protesters in Daraa. The violence began when a large group of people
emerged from the Al-Omari mosque, marching and shouting slogans against
corruption and calling for more political freedoms.

A human rights activist told The Associated Press that security forces
cordoned the main hospital in Daraa where some of the wounded were being
treated, preventing families from visiting the victims. He cited hospital
workers, but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government

The government's TV channel and news agency said "infiltrators" in Daraa
caused "chaos and riots" and smashed cars and public and private property
before they attacked riot police. It said a similar demonstration in the
coastal town of Banyas dispersed without incident.

Amateur video footage posted on YouTube and Twitter showed large groups of
protesters in several cities, but the authenticity of the footage could
not be independently confirmed.

A YouTube video claiming to be shot in Banyas showed several thousand
demonstrators gathering around an old stone building with a Syrian flag
fluttering from its roof. A cluster of men stood on its balcony with a
loudspeaker. Amid chants of "Freedom!" and "There is only one God!," one
man shouted out a list of protesters demands ranging from freedom of
expression to allowing Muslim women with face veils to attend school.

In the capital, plainclothes security officers forcefully dispersed about
a dozen protesters calling for more freedoms in the country, human rights
activists said earlier in the day.

The activists said the protest occurred in the yard of Damascus' famous
Ummayad Mosque shortly after Friday prayers. At least two protesters were
detained, they said.

The protest was the third small rally broken up in Damascus this week.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, a 45-year-old British-trained eye doctor,
inherited power from his father in 2000 after three decades of
authoritarian rule. He has since moved slowly to lift Soviet-style
economic restrictions, letting in foreign banks, throwing the doors open
to imports and empowering the private sector.

The early years of his rule raised hopes of a freer society; salons where
political and economic issues were openly debated sprang up across the

But the "Damascus Spring" as it came to be known was short-lived. In 2001,
secret police began raiding the salons, jailing two lawmakers and scores
of other activists in the years that followed.

In 2004, bloody clashes that began in the northeastern city of Qamishli
between Syrian Kurds and security forces left at least 25 people dead and
some 100 injured.

Although Assad keeps a tight lid on any form of political dissent, he is
seen by many Arabs as one of the few leaders in the region willing to
stand up to Israel.

Assad told The Wall Street Journal in February that Syria is insulated
from the upheaval in the Arab world because he understands his people's
needs and has united them in common cause against Israel.

Also Friday, eight Syrian human rights groups said a prosecutor had
questioned and charged dozens of demonstrators with hurting the state's

The groups said the 32 activists denied the charges. They included four
relatives of political prisoner Kamal Labawani, who is serving a 12-year
prison sentence.

The activists were detained Wednesday when plainclothes security officers
armed with batons dispersed a protest near the Interior Ministry demanding
the release of political prisoners.


Karam reported from Cairo. Diaa Hadid in Cairo contributed to this report.

Bahrain army demolishes monument at Pearl Square

By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press March 18, 2011

MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain on Friday tore down the 300-foot (90-meter)
monument at the heart of a square purged of Shiite protesters this week,
erasing a symbol of an uprising that's inflaming sectarian tensions across
the region.

The monument — six white curved beams topped with a huge cement pearl —
was built in Pearl Square as a tribute to the Sunni-ruled kingdom's
history as a pearl-diving center. It became the backdrop to the Shiite
majority's uprising after protesters set up a month-long camp at Pearl
Square in the capital, Manama.

Security forces overran the camp on Wednesday, setting off clashes that
killed at least five people, including two policemen. At least 12 people
have been killed in the month-long revolt.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters in
Manama that the army brought down the monument because "it was a bad

"We are not waging war, we are restoring law and order," Khalid said at a
press conference in Manama.

Shiite anger rose sharply around the Mideast on Friday as large crowds in
Iran and Iraq cursed Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and its Saudi backers over
the violent crackdown on protesters demanding more rights.

Amateur video footage of security forces shooting and beating protesters
has spread across the internet and fueled fury in predominantly Shiite
Iraq and in Iran, where a senior cleric on Friday urged Bahraini
protesters to keep going until victory or death.

Thousands of Bahrainis gathered for the funeral of Ahmed Farhan, a
29-year-old demonstrator slain Tuesday in the town of Sitra hours after
the king declared martial law in response to a month of escalating
protests. Sitra, the hub of Bahrain's oil industry, has been the site of
the worst confrontations.

A funeral for Abdul-Jaffer Mohammed Abdul-Ali, 40, took place in the
village of Karranah, west of the capital. His brother Abdul-Ali Mohammed
told The Associated Press that Abdel-Jaffer was killed on Wednesday
morning on his way to Pearl Square to reinforce the protesters' lines
during the military assault on the encampment.

"My brother was not a political man, but he participated in the protest
every day to have a better future for his four children," Abdul-Ali said.

"When he heard the Pearl Square was under attack, he went there," he
added. "Our country is under siege and he wanted to help liberate it."

Shiites account for 70 percent of the tiny island's half-million people
but they are widely excluded from high-level posts and positions in the
police and military of the country, whic is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th

"Brothers and sisters" in Bahrain should "resist against the enemy until
you die or win," Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers at
Friday prayers at Tehran University, a nationally televised forum seen as
expressing the views of Iran's ruling Shiite clergy.

Worshippers chanted angry slogans against Saudi Arabia's royal family,
which has sent troops to back Bahrain's king.

"There is no God but Allah, Al Saud is God's enemy," some chanted in
Arabic. One Persian banner read, "Death to Al Saud."

Across Iraq, thousands rallied in mostly Shiite cities in the country's
largest demonstrations since a wave of dissent spread across the Middle
East in the wake of Tunisia's overthrow of its autocratic president.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani — Iraqi-based Shiism's highest ranking cleric
in the Mideast — suspended teachings at religious schools across Iraq on
Friday in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

A representative of al-Sistani warned during his Friday sermon in the holy
city of Karbala that the brutal images of what is happening in Bahrain
will inflame passions and lead to sectarian problems in the region.

Bahrain's rulers invited armies from other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries this
week to help root out dissent as the month of protests spiraled into
widespread calls for an end to the Sunni monarchy. In declaring emergency
rule, the king gave the military wide powers to battle the uprising.

There are no apparent links between Iran and Bahrain's Shiite opposition
but the U.S. and Sunni leaders in the Persian Gulf leaders have expressed
concern that Iran could use the unrest in Bahrain to expand its influence
in the region. Iran has recalled its ambassador from Bahrain to protest
the crackdown.

The United States bases the 5th Fleet in Bahrain partly to counter Iran's
military reach around the region.


Associated Press Writers Reem Khalifa in Manama and Nasser Karimi in
Tehran and Bushra Juhi in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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