Middle East unrest: 52 shot dead in Yemen

Adrian Blomfeild – Telegraph.co.uk March 19, 2011

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s veteran president, declared a countrywide state of emergency after reneging on a pledge to protect demonstrators demanding an immediate end to his 32-year rule.

Loyalist gunmen, believed to be members of the Yemeni security forces, opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters who massed outside Sana’a university, the epicentre of a month-long popular campaign to overthrow the president.

Doctors said that between 30 and 41 people were killed and over 200 more were wounded on the single bloodiest day since the eruption of the protests against Mr Saleh, a key US ally in the war against al Qaeda, which has a significant presence in Yemen.

Protesters stormed some of the buildings from where the gunfire came, seizing at least seven of the snipers.

The opposition coalition at the forefront of the demonstrations said the bloodshed had made any negotiations with Mr Saleh impossible.

“There is no longer any possibility of mutual understanding with this regime and he has no choice but to surrender authority to the people,” said Yassin Noman, the coalition’s rotating president.

 Across the Arab world, governments felt the wrath of their long-subjugated people. Some protests passed off peacefully.

In Egypt, thousands returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic centrepiece of the Arab Spring, to voice their objections to constitutional changes being offered by the country’s new military leadership in a referendum on Saturday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition party, has called for a “yes” vote, but youth groups who led the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month have insisted that the changes do not go far enough.

In Jordan, over 1,500 supports of the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, marched peacefully in the capital Amman to demand the dissolution of parliament and greater political reforms.

But there was violence in Syria, where small anti-government demonstrations erupted in the capital Damascus and at least three other towns and cities.

Plainclothes police officers used baton charges to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside the storied Omayyed Mosque in Damascus’s old city. Some demonstrators were beaten and kicked as they were dragged away as terrified families fled, their children in tears.

In the southern town of Deraa, there were reports of fierce and sustained clashes between protesters and riot police.

Syria has seen little political unrest since Hafez al-Assad, the former president and father of the present leader Bashar al-Assad, sent troops to quell a revolt in the city of Hama in 1982, killing at least 17,000 people.

A planned day of rage in Qatar failed to materialise.

In an example of the complex allegiances of Arab governments, the Qatari royal family offered to help police a no-fly zone in Libya while simultaneously announcing it had sent troops to Bahrain to prop up the regime there against protesters, over a dozen of whom have been killed in recent days.

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