Police opened fire on Friday on anti-government protesters in Yemen, injuring 14 a day after embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh offered sweeping political reform, witnesses said.
Despite Saleh’s promises to protect the demonstrators, security forces used tear gas and live bullets to disperse thousands of people who marched toward Aden’s Khor Maksar neighbourhood to demand democratic change.
At least 14 people were injured, including three who appeared to have been shot with live bullets, hospital staff said.
The demonstrators were carrying banners reading “Ali, tyrant, leave” and “For the sake of our martyrs, leave” as they marched toward the neighbourhood where foreign consulates are located. Police had cordoned off the area.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in largely peaceful rallies across the conservative, deeply tribal country, witnesses said.
In the capital, a huge crowd of mourners attended the funeral of a protester who had been shot on Wednesday when police attacked student demonstrators near Sana’a University.
“The people want to overthrow the president,” people chanted as they poured into a square near the university that has become the epicentre of anti-regime protests raging since late January.
“We call on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to listen to the demands of the protesters in all the provinces,” said Abdul Wahab al-Dulaimi, who led Friday prayers for students who are manning a protest camp at the university.
Thousands of Yemeni women joined the Sana’a protests for the first time since they began in the conservative Arabian Peninsula country.
Saleh loyalists crowded into nearby Tahrir Square and police set up roadblocks to keep the two sides apart.
Thousands also demonstrated against Saleh’s rule farther south in Taez and Ibb, while similar numbers took to the streets in the northern province of Amran.
Other large protests were reported in Hadramawt, Al-Hudaydah, Shabwa and Al-Baida.
Protesters have been calling on Saleh, in power since 1978, to step down despite his pledges of reform.
On Thursday he promised a referendum on a new constitution which would devolve power to Parliament, but the offer was swiftly rejected by the opposition.
In a nationally televised speech, he also pledged to protect demonstrators from further violence.
“We have ordered the security forces to continue to provide protection for all the protesters, whether they are supporters of our legitimacy or from the opposition,” he said.
Yemen, a strategic United States ally in the fight against al-Qaeda’s offshoot in the Arabian Peninsula, has been swept up in the wave of unrest that has redrawn Arab politics and ousted autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
One of the poorest countries in the region, is has seen almost daily protests against Saleh’s autocratic rule which are destabilising a country already mired in sectarian and secessionist violence.
The United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights added its weight to calls for the regime to exercise restraint against demonstrators, after Washington on Wednesday called for a probe into the use of “excessive force”.
“We call on the government to exercise restraint and to investigate all allegations of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations at the hands of the security forces,” spokesman Rupert Colville said.
About 37 protesters and at least six security officers had reportedly been killed since the unrest started in Yemen, he said. — AFP