'Iranian security forces clash with opposition supporters'

Yemen’s president blames "Tel Aviv" for continuing unrest; ministers’ resignations leave Tunisia on brink of collapse.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 1, 2011 21:34
Opposition gathering in Tehran, Feb. 16.

Iranian opposition gathering_311 Reuters. (photo credit: Stringer Iran / Reuters)

Iranian security forces fired tear gas and clashed with antigovernment protesters demonstrating against the treatment of opposition leaders, proreform websites reported on Tuesday.

Thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities, chanting slogans against the government, Sahamnews reported.

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“Security forces and plainclothes agents fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in Tehran to disperse them,” another opposition website, Kaleme, reported. “Protesters have formed groups in hundreds and are marching toward Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square... Riot police attacked protesters with batons and electric shocks...”

Protesters demanded the release of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who have been under house arrest in Tehran since February 14. In the meantime, thousands of their supporters have taken to the streets, defying a heavy security presence to back uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Sahamnews said.

Seeking to avoid a revival of mass anti-government rallies that erupted after a disputed 2009 presidential election, the authorities warned against “illegal” gatherings after some opposition websites posted calls for a rally on Tuesday.

Yemen's "Day of Rage"

In Yemen, tens of thousands of protesters flooded streets on Tuesday in a “Day of Rage,” demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s threedecade rule.

In the capital Sanaa, demonstrators chanted “With blood and soul we support you, Aden,” referring to the southern port city where most of the 24 people killed in the past two weeks of protests have died. Some flashed V-for-victory signs, while others wore white headbands with “Leave” written in red – a message addressed to Saleh.

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turmoil in the Middle East

In a speech to the faculty of Sanaa University, the Yemeni president accused Washington and Israel of orchestrating the wave of unrest sweeping through the region.

“There is an operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world,” Salah said, according to JTA. “The wave of political unrest sweeping across the Arab world is a conspiracy that serves Israel and the Zionists.”

Saleh, a US ally against Islamist militants, added that it is “all run by the White House.”

The president has failed to quell two months of protests in a country of 23 million, where 40 percent live on less than $2 a day and a third are undernourished.

Protests enter fourth day in Oman

In neighboring Oman, troops fired into the air near a port on Tuesday to clear a fourth day of protests by people demanding jobs and political reforms, wounding one person in the town of Sohar, witnesses said.

“We were about 200 to 300 people on the road. The army started shooting in the air,” one protester in Sohar said, declining to be named. “Many people ran. The man who was shot (had) come to calm the army down.”

The crowd dispersed before regrouping again near the port, the witnesses said, and the troops pulled back.

The unrest in Sohar, Oman’s main industrial center, was a rare outbreak of discontent in the normally tranquil Gulf state, ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia began distributing $37 billion in social benefits on Tuesday to ease the pain of inflation and unemployment in the world’s top oil exporter, and to avert the popular unrest that has engulfed the region.

The OPEC producer has so far escaped the mass protests that have toppled entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, but its national stock index posted its steepest drop in more than two years amid fears the turmoil could yet reach the kingdom.

“There will be immediate execution [of the king’s measures],” Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf told reporters. “The Ministry of Finance transferred the relevant amounts today.”

Three more ministers resign in Tunisia

In Tunisia, which was the inspiration for much of the subsequent Arab revolts, three more cabinet ministers resigned Tuesday, leaving the caretaker government that took power after the president was overthrown teetering on the brink of collapse.

The new resignations mean that in the space of 72 hours, the prime minister and five ministers quit, indicating the worst political crisis in Tunisia since Zine al Abidine Ben Ali was ousted a month and a half ago.

The resignations follow intensifying street protests over the slow pace of reforms since Ben Ali’s departure, with five people killed in clashes between demonstrators and security forces over the weekend.

A source close to the government told Reuters that the new prime minister, Beji Caid Sebsi, will this week announce the creation of a representative council whose job will be to rewrite the constitution. The members of the council will need to be elected.

That move – a step toward preparing legislative and presidential polls – could relieve pressure on the government from its opponents, but it was not clear if it would be enough for it to survive.

Military sets vote for constitutional change in Egypt

And in Egypt, the only other Arab state thus far to have ousted its longtime ruler, the military provisionally set a vote on constitutional change for March 19 as the prelude to a parliamentary election in June, followed by a presidential poll to usher in full democracy.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, running the Arab world’s most populous nation since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, is sticking to a short timetable to open a new chapter in modern Egyptian history.

“The time frame the young people announced is a preliminary timetable for the key events within the coming months,” an army source said Tuesday when asked about comments from youth leaders who met the council last week and disclosed the March 19 date.

The youth leaders said a parliamentary election would be held in June, with a presidential vote six weeks later.


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