Sana, Yemen — A leading tribal figure in Yemen announced his resignation from the ruling party on Saturday, signaling a major blow to the embattled leadership of President Ali Abdullah Saleh as demonstrations calling for his resignation continue across the country.
“The Yemeni people would not keep silent on the blood of martyrs shed in Aden and will avenge it,” Sheikh Hussein Al Ahmar said in a speech before a large gathering of tribesmen in northern Amran province, referring to deaths of antigovernment protesters in the southern city of Aden, according to local press reports. He also called for the overthrow the Saleh regime, and the gathering broke out in antigovernment chants.
Mr. Ahmar is a prominent leader in Yemen’s most influential tribal confederation, the Hashids; his brother, Sadiq Al Ahmar, is the chief Hashid leader. Mr. Saleh, the president, is also a member of the Hashid confederation and has been meeting with tribal leaders to garner their support over the past two weeks.
Four days earlier, Mohammad Abdel Illah al-Qadi, a key leader of the Sanhan tribe, a Hashid affiliate that is also a key power base of the president, had joined the growing protest movement. y. Mr. Qadi, whose father is a powerful military leader, was one of 10 ministers who resigned the ruling party.
Mr. Saleh has maintained power in the impoverished Persian Gulf nation of Yemen for more than three decades in part by deftly balancing tribal allegiances, so the loss of the tribal leaders is a significant development.
Elsewhere in the region, widespread unrest continued, with the most serious situation in Libya, where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waged a bloody crackdown in an effort to maintain power amid a growing rebellion.
In Bahrain, one of the leaders of the country’s longstanding opposition movement, Hassan Mushaima, a Shiite leader of the banned Al Haq party, returned from exile in London on Saturday after King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa announced that criminal charges against him for an alleged coup plot against the government had been dropped.
Mr. Mushaima had been due to arrive on Tuesday but had been detained in Beirut, his passport seized by authorities in what he told a Lebanese newspaper he believed was a deal with the Bahrain government to keep him away.
“We want a real constitution,” Mr. Mushaima told reporters at the airport, according to Retuers. “They’ve promised us before and then did whatever they wanted to.”
Thousands of anti-government protesters, meanwhile, marched from Pearl Square to a former office of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa on Saturday, in the protesters’ first foray from Pearl Sqaure into a government and commerical district of Manama, the capital, Reuters reported. Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, is a symbol of the ruling family’s political power and wealth who has held his position for 40 years.
Mr. Mushaima, a Shiite leader, heads the banned Al Haq Party; he had earlier broken with another opposition group because it participated in parliamentary elections that he felt would give the government legitimacy and little incentive to institute real changes.
Bahrian declares itself a constitutional monarchy, but the parliament gives royal family, which is Sunni, absolute authority in the Shiite majority nation.
In Egypt, tension lingered in Tahrir Square, the center of the country’s revolution, after the army tusseled with protesters after midnight on Saturday in an effort to keep them from spending the night there. Later in the day, the military council issued a statement apologizing for the violence and said those arrested would be released. Activists called for new protests, news services reported.
In Tunisia, where the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the former president, by protesters spearheaded the wave of revolutionary fervor in the region, tear gas was used to disperse about 300 protesters seeking the resignation of the interim prime minister, who was part of his government, wire services reported. On Friday, as tens of thousands demonstrated, the interim government said that it would hold elections by mid-July.
In Algeria, hundreds of demonstrators protested in Algiers, the capital, to demand the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but they were easily outnumbered by a heavy police presence, The Associated Press reported.
The protest in central Martyr’s Square came two days after the government ended a 19-year state of emergency in place since Algeria’s bloody Islamic insurgency, aimed at easing tensions after weeks of anti-government strikes and protests.
In Sana, the decsion of Mr. Ahmar to join with the swelling protest moment in Yemen led to cheers and applause at an anti-govermnet sit-in in front of Sanaa University that has lasted almost a week, as it was announced via loudspeaker before noon prayers.
An increasing number of tribesmen from outside the city have joined with the youth that make up the bulk of the tens of thousands of protesters in Sana. They complain that the president has kept certain northern tribes weak for years in order to shore up control.
“He makes war between the tribes by giving certain people money,” said Faisal Gerayi, a resident of the poor, northern Al Jawf province who was sitting under a tent with other tribesmen from outside the capital.
The most common complaint among anti-government protesters is about Yemen’s endemic corruption problem that they feel has kept the majority of the population impoverished. At least one person was shot fatally during a protest on Friday in the southern port city Aden, though some local reports place the number much higher and it is difficult to confirm their legitimacy. Protests in Aden have been notoriously more violent than those in other cities.
There are accounts of snipers being used against demonstrators and gunfire was heard late into the night in some districts of Aden. Residents say that the city is in lockdown and they can’t move from one district to another.
After fatal clashes in the past week, protests in Sana and Taiz have been relatively calm after Saleh announced on Wednesday that security forces should protect protesters.
Laura Kasinof reported from Sana, Yemen, and Sharon Otterman from Cairo.
This article ” Tribal Leader’s Resignation is Blow to Yemeni President” originally appeared at The New York Times.
© 2011 The New York Times Company
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