First Tunisia, then Egypt, and now Yemen: The wave of protests that has hit the Arab world extended to Yemen on Thursday, as tens of thousands of local residents hit the streets in a series of protests nationwide.
The Yemenis were demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for nearly 32 years, step down, The Associated Press reported. The protesters reportedly shouted: “No delays, no delays, the time for departure has come!”
Yemen is the Arab world’s most impoverished nation and has become a haven for al-Qaeda terrorists. AP reported that Saleh's government is riddled with corruption and has little control outside the capital. In a sense Yemen resembles the American situation in Pakistan where the Americans have extended support for the Yemeni regime despite their suspicion that he sometimes is playing a double game and conniving on the side with Islamists. In 2000,
It was from Yemen that the deadly attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole was launched killing 17 and wounding 39. In 2007, Yemen released one of the masterminds who had presumably renounced terrorism. Previously some of the accused participants "escaped" from a Yemeni prison. In May 2001, UPI reported, "According to several US government sources, one of the reasons the attack on the Cole succeeded was involvement by the 'highest levels' of the Yemen government of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, although Saleh himself personally was not." One should not forget that Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and there is a large Yemeni minority in Saudi Arabia.
The current protests were led by opposition members and youth activists in parts of the capital, Sanaa. It was reported that in the southern provinces of Dali and Shabwa, riot police used batons to disperse the crowds.
The protests calmed by early evening on Thursday; however, organizers have promised that there was more to come on Friday.
Meanwhile, the United States said Thursday that it backs the right of Yemenis to hold demonstrations.
“We're aware that there are protests in Sanaa and other Yemeni cities, and our message is the same,” AFP quoted State Department spokesman Philip Crowley as saying.
The protests in Yemen come following a wave of protests in Egypt, where on Thursday former IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei returned from Vienna, as riots and protests in the streets of Cairo entered the third straight day.
ElBaradei, the top opposition candidate to face Mubarak's son Gamal in upcoming national elections, declared Thursday he was ready to lead the protests. The long-outlawed fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's largest opposition group, also declared its support for the protests.