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Clashes in Yemen Leave One Protester Dead

Demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, March 15, 2011. (Photo: Sallam)

Sana, Yemen – Clashes broke out late Saturday evening between security forces and demonstrators here, killing one protester and wounding 15, doctors said at a field hospital at the site.

Security forces opened fire, said witnesses, in the first direct assault on protesters in the capital since snipers killed 52 protesters more than three weeks ago. The shooting follows a week of violence in a central city, Taiz, where security forces and men in plain clothes have fatally shot about 20 protesters.

Saturday’s violence began after a group of about 400 protesters tried to march to the presidential palace late in the evening. They were stopped at a major intersection by security forces about a half-mile away from their main sit-in area.

After an hour of a tense standoff, gunfire started. Plainclothesmen, wielding guns, were standing around the police, and had surrounded the area where the protesters had broken off from the main protest site. Two water cannons also pounded the area.

The demonstrators had wandered out of an area where soldiers under Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, a top military leader who broke with the government last month, guarded the protesters.

After the gunfire started, the protesters temporarily scattered, though some returned, chanting “Peaceful, Peaceful” and “There is no God but Allah.”

“At first they shot into the air, and then they shot at us,” said Mustafa Amrany, a 14-year-old boy, who was lying on the floor of a nearby mechanic’s shop after being exposed to tear gas. He said: “I am not young. I am here with the protest,” while Ismael Mohamed, the mechanic, poured water over his burning eyes. Before the violence erupted Saturday, the atmosphere was tense, and periodically the protesters yelled out taunts at the security forces.

“We are escalating our protests,” said Ziad Rahim, 23, before the gunfire erupted. The majority who left the main protest area appeared to be in their 20s. Many wore shirts with the words “project martyr” in Arabic.

On Sunday, a Yemeni official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject accused the political opposition of “maintaining a controlled chaos strategy to tip the balance of the situation in their favor by provoking violence.”

The official said that central security forces had exchanged fire Saturday night with General al-Ahmar’s soldiers but that “it is not clear who pulled the first shot.”

However, at the time the attack began, General al-Ahmar’s soldiers were not among the protesters.

Further clashes between security forces and protesters also took place Saturday in Taiz, where 43 protesters were wounded by gunfire, according to a local doctor.

The article “Clashes in Yemen Leave One Protester Dead” originally appeared at The New York Times.

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