At least 1 killed, scores hurt in Yemen protest crackdown

Rallies continue in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain; Omani ruler cedes some powers in apparent effort to quell protests.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 13, 2011 18:36
4 minute read.
Protests in Yemen

Yemen Protests 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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At least one person was killed and scores were hurt on Sunday when Yemeni police fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters in Sanaa demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule, medical sources said. Meanwhile, protests continued in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.

Witnesses said most of the injured were suffering severe effects from tear gas but some were hit by bullets. Two were thought to be in serious condition in the clashes by Sanaa University, where protesters have been camped out for days. Sky News reported as many as five people had been killed.

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The United States sees Saleh as an important ally in its fight against a highly active al Qaida cell based in impoverished Yemen, but has grown increasingly alarmed by the escalating violence and has called for dialogue.

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Several thousand people gathered there early on Sunday, setting up barricades in an effort to separate themselves from riot police who used water cannon. They carried banners branding Saleh "Chemical Ali," in reference to the police's use of an apparent tear gas that doctors have said affects the nervous system. The Interior Ministry has denied the accusation.

Four people, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed in protests around Yemen on Saturday, bringing the total number of dead during two months of unrest to above 30.

In neighboring Saudi Arabia, dozens gathered outside the interior ministry in Riyadh to demand the release of jailed relatives, an activist said, two days after a planned day of protests fizzled amid a heavy police presence. Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia and the interior ministry denied one was taking place. Journalists could not get close to the heavily guarded ministry complex.

A call via social media for a day of anti-government protests went largely unheeded on Friday as police stepped up their presence in the capital Riyadh and elsewhere. Small Shi'ite protests have taken place in the east.

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A senior Saudi prince said in comments published Sunday that loyal Saudis had foiled plans by "evil people" to stage protests. "I congratulate King Abdullah and his crown prince Sultan for having these kind and loyal subjects," Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the king's half-brother, said in remarks published by the official news agency overnight. "Some evil people wanted to spread chaos in the kingdom yesterday and called for demonstrations that have dishonorable goals," said the veteran security chief, whose ministry warned last week that protests were un-Islamic and illegal.

Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, has so far avoided unrest that toppled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and spread to other Gulf countries, but dissent has built up in the world's top oil exporter, an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament. Protests in Riyadh, even small ones, pose a challenge to the Saudi government as it tries to show the country is stable while protests rage just across its borders.

Oman's state news agency reported Sunday that the Gulf country’s ruler has decided to cede some legislative powers to a partially elected council, in an apparent effort to quell protests.

The agency also reported that Sultan Qaboos bin Said would double monthly welfare payments and increase pension benefits.

The normally tranquil sultanate, an oil-producing nation at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, was stunned by protests in at least two cities last month that left one person dead. The sultan, who has ruled Oman for 40 years, sacked a string of ministers in a recent cabinet reshuffle and on Sunday appeared to make his biggest concession yet by announcing that he would offer lawmaking powers to the Oman Council. At present, only the sultan and his cabinet can legislate.

In Bahrain, waves of protesters blocked a main thoroughfare to the kingdom’s Financial Harbour, a major business district in the banking center, facing off with police who fired clouds of tear gas and water cannon.

In one of the most violent confrontations since the military killed seven protesters on February 17, youths erected barricades across the highway after overwhelming riot police near the Pearl roundabout, the focal point of weeks of demonstrations.

"The Ministry of Interior ... advised all protesters to return to the Pearl roundabout for their own safety," it said in a statement, adding that one policeman had been stabbed and one taken to hospital with head wounds after coming under attack.

One demonstrator showed a round red mark on his chest, which he said was a tear gas canister shot directly into him. Others showed rubber bullets they said were fired by police.

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