Friday protests grip Middle East

Rallies for and against president held in Yemen while protesters vent anger after prayers in Jordan, Iraq and Bahrain.

    Protesters in Yemen have been calling for an end to Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule [AFP]

    Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, have held rival rallies in the capital, Sanaa. 

    Protesters outside Sanaa University repeated slogans demanding that the country's longtime president step down immediately, chanting: "The people demand the downfall of the regime."

    About 4km away, loyalists shouted support for the president, who they described as holding the fractured and impoverished tribal country together. "The creator of unity is in our hearts. We will not abandon him," they chanted.

    Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Sanaa, said that while the situation is calm in the capital, due to the huge presence of police and military, there have been reports of protesters being killed in the south of the country.

    "The situation in Aden [in the south] is very tense, two people have been killed and at least 24 pro-democracy protesters were injured in clashes with security forces [today]," he said.

    "Security forces have been asked by the ministry of the interior to block the main square to put an end to the escalations there, as it is the stronghold of the secessionist movement who want to break away from the north.

    "There have been huge rallies in the province of Sadah, the stronghold of the Houthi fighters. They have said they are joining the protesters and that their fight will be similar to the fight of thousands of protesters who are asking for an end to the political regime."

    Yemen has been swept up in protests inspired by the recent successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The demonstrators are demanding that Saleh, in power for 32 years, step down.

    'Anarchy and killing'

    Seventeen people have died in the past nine days in a sustained wave of nationwide anti-Saleh protests. The embattled president has said he will not give in to "anarchy and killing".

    Anti-government demonstrations erupted in Jordan in January to protest against the rising cost of living [AFP]

    Saleh, a US ally against a Yemen-based al Qaeda wing that has launched attacks at home and abroad, is struggling to end month-old protests flaring across his impoverished country.

    He is also trying to maintain a shaky truce with northern Shia Muslim fighters and contain a secessionist uprising in
    the south against northern rule.

    Salah has offered to step down before elections scheduled for 2013 and state news agency Saba said he has assigned a committee headed by Ali Mohammed Megawar, the prime minister, to open a dialogue with protesters to hear their demands.

    'Day of Anger'

    Elsewhere in the Middle East, several thousand people demonstrated in the centre of the Jordanian capital, Amman, in a "Day of Anger" to call for political reforms.

    Jordan deployed more than 3,000 security personnel across central Amman, but police reportedly stayed on the sidelines and even gave bottles of water and juice to the protesters.

    "We are demonstrating today against the official bullying and to demand reforms," leading trade unionist Maisara Malas told AFP news agency.

    "We seek regime reforms. We want a true parliamentary monarchy. The monarchy should not dominate parliament."

    Hamzah Mansur, chief of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, told the crowds "reforms have become a necessity that cannot be delayed."

    "We want immediate constitutional change to help create productive governments and a truly representative parliament. These are the demands of all Jordanians."

    Meanwhile, more than 100 supporters of the Hashemite royal family gathered outside Al-Husseini Mosque, in the capital.

    In Bahrain, protesters thronged the capital, Manama, to demand the end of the ruling Sunni government.

    Tens of thousands of protesters headed for Pearl roundabout, the epicentre of daily demonstrations since February 14, chanting: "The people want to topple the regime!"

    Some of the protesters carried megaphones, blaring slogans and speeches as the protest made its way towards the roundabout, renamed "Martyrs' Roundabout" in honour of the seven victims of a deadly police raid on a protest last week.

    Signs around the square on Friday signalled that the protests were far from over: "We will not accept any dialogue with he who kills us in cold blood," declared one banner.

    Late on Friday, Al Jazeera learned from official sources in Bahrain that the king had sacked three ministers "who caused crisis" after the unrest.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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