Published: March 20, 2011
SANA, Yemen — Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh was reported to have fired his cabinet on Sunday, as protests demanding Mr. Saleh’s ouster intensified and Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations joined the growing list of officials who have quit their posts in a sign of widening alarm at the government’s response to the demonstrations.
|Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press|
For the first time since demonstrators began camping out in front of Sana University calling for an end to President Saleh’s rule, the country’s opposition leaders attended the protest as a group on Saturday afternoon to voice their support. “When the people come to the square of change, there is no voice louder than theirs,” Yassin Saeed Noman, a socialist leader and the head of the Joint Meetings Parties, Yemen‘s opposition coalition, told the crowd of hundreds. “You are the generation that will bring the revolution to Yemen.”
Mr. Noman was surrounded by other opposition leaders, including those from Yemen’s Islamist party.
Their appearance came a day after the worst instance of violence by government supporters against demonstrators since the protest began more than a month ago. At least 45 people were killed and more than 200 injured when gunmen fired on the crowd here in the capital.
On Saturday, a group of several hundred watched, applauded, and chanted antigovernment slogans during Mr. Noman’s speech. Still, most of the protesters, weary-looking tribesmen from outside the capital, sat in their tents, uninterested. And many of the student leaders who first organized the Sana demonstrations also stayed in their tents, apparently exhausted after the earlier clashes.
Blood still stained the ground where the shootings took place down the street from Saturday’s rally.
Immediately after the noon Friday Prayer, snipers from nearby buildings opened fire on the demonstrators. According to volunteers who staff a makeshift clinic inside a nearby mosque, the more than 200 people wounded had been hurt by gunfire and rocks. The deaths from Friday’s attack more than doubled the number of demonstrators killed nationwide in the last month.
“The ruling elite has definitely committed a criminal act that people cannot forget or erase from their memories for ages,” said a high-ranking government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The excessive use of power has added to the pressure on the president because he knows very well who the perpetrators are and who gave them the orders.”
At least some of the houses from which snipers in civilian clothing fired on demonstrators on Friday belonged to officials from Yemen’s ruling party, including the governor of Mahweet, a mountainous district near the capital.
In protest of the violence against the demonstrators, a steady flow of resignations from government officials began over the weekend.
Yemen’s ambassador to Lebanon, Faisal Amin Abu-Ras, resigned on Saturday. “Before the horror of the massacre of Sana and respect for the sacrifices of the martyrs and the wounded from this great people in Sana, Aden, Taiz, Hadramout and other places, I find myself compelled to offer my resignation and join the ranks of the people,” said the text of Mr. Abu-Ras’s resignation letter.
On Friday night, the minister of tourism, Nabil Hasan al-Faqih, resigned from his position and the ruling party. And on Saturday, at the demonstration here, the head of Yemen’s state-run Saba news agency, Nasser Taha Mustapha, announced that he would quit his job, as did at least two editors in chief of state-run newspapers. Later, the minister of human rights, Huda al-Ban, and her deputy also resigned. Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Alsaidi, resigned on Sunday.
Also on Saturday, four antigovernment protesters were wounded in the southern port city of Aden when security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators, according to local reports.
In the capital, tensions remained high on Saturday. Extra security forces with automatic weapons and tanks lined a major road. For the first time in his presidency, Mr. Saleh declared a monthlong state of emergency on Friday after the violence shut down half the capital, though Yemen’s Constitution does not specify what that entails.
But on Saturday, the foreign affairs minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, told diplomats that it aims to “foil any attempts to disturb the security and stability of the country and enable the government to maintain the citizens’ security.”
Mr. Saleh declared Sunday a day of mourning for the “martyrs of democracy” who died in Friday’s clashes, according to the official Saba news agency.
Human Rights Watch, based in New York, condemned the violence and urged the United States to withdraw foreign aid to Mr. Saleh’s government.
“Time and again, President Saleh promises he will stop attacks on peaceful protesters, and yet the number of dead keeps rising,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the rights organization’s Middle East director, said in a statement. “The United States should back up its words condemning the carnage with action, and halt military aid to Yemen.”
American assistance to Yemen more than doubled in the last year after an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane by the Qaeda branch in this impoverished country was foiled.
In a restaurant within the walls of Sana’s old city, employees spoke out Saturday against the ruling party.
“We hope the American government goes on the side of the Yemeni people, not on the side of the Yemeni president,” said Riyadh al-Qadisi, a waiter, naming the six United States presidents who have held office in the 32 years that Mr. Saleh has been in power.