Letter From Sana’a

Saleh on the Edge

Courtesy Reuters

Last Friday, hundreds of students and activists gathered in Sana'a University’s square in Yemen to call for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. "Ali, leave, leave -- your seat has oxidized!" they shouted. After an hour of protests, a thousand armed tribesmen -- supporters of Saleh -- surrounded the stage and attacked the demonstrators with knives, batons, and stones, injuring dozens. Known as baltagia (“thugs” in Arabic), the men were mercenaries paid by Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress. Government officials transported the men to the university and provided them with weapons and banners supporting the president.

That violent incident was but one in a number of antigovernment protests that have expanded throughout Yemen, as the main opposition factions have joined the students to call for the end of Saleh’s regime. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been camping in Yemen’s largest cities -- Taiz, Aden, Ibb, and the capital, Sana’a -- refusing to return home until their demand for Saleh’s exit is met.

Saleh, however, is showing no sign of capitulation -- and he appears willing to use lethal force. A government supporter threw a grenade on a massive demonstration in Taiz last Friday, killing two and injuring 85. Clashes on Wednesday in Sana’a between antigovernment demonstrators and Saleh loyalists left at least one protester dead. All in all, the president’s security forces have killed 15 protesters since February 16. The violence spurred seven members of Yemen’s parliament to resign in protest from the government and the ruling party.

The protests in Yemen truly began on January 16, when hundreds of young liberal students from Sana’a University, inspired by the uprising in Tunisia against the now-deposed Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, demonstrated at the university square to call for Saleh and his family to leave power. Radda al-Salami, a student protester, explained their actions by telling me that he “lost the ability to continue life as it should be.” “I could not complete

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