Thousands attend rival rallies in Yemen

Opposition claims protests are biggest so far but thousands also rally in support of Yemen's president, Abdullah Saleh.

    Yemen has seen large anti-government protests after Friday prayers for the last seven weeks [Reuters]

    Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, both for and against president Ali Abdullah Saleh, raising fears fresh confrontations between the two sides.

    State television showed pictures on Friday of thousands of people on the streets near the presidential palace, waving flags and banners in support of the country's leader.

    At the same time the opposition movement told Al Jazeera that they have hundreds of thousands of people, in over 15 provinces in Yemen, on the streets demanding Saleh end his 32-year long rule.

    "They said it was the biggest protest that they'd seen in the seven weeks or so that they have been coming out every Friday," our correspondent in Sanaa, who cannot be named for security reasons, said.

    "This really is turning into a battle or competition between the opposition and president Saleh as to who can get more people out on the streets."

    Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have converged on Change Square in Sanaa, spilling over onto three adjoining streets, the largest turnout seen there so far. Demonstrators have set up tents and hung posters of young men who were killed in recent rallies.

    Soldiers guarding the protesters in the square in Sanaa reportedly fired shots into the air to stop Saleh's supporters getting closer to the area, our correspondent reported.

    She added that some had cast doubts over the pictures of Saleh's supporters, saying that while Al Jazeera had been able to verify the protests at Change Square they had "to rely on state television for the pictures of the pro-Saleh camp, and the authenticity of those pictures is being questioned".

    State television showed Saleh addressing the crowd on Friday, where he pledged to "sacrifice" himself for the people "with my blood and everything I hold dear".

    Failed talks

    Hundreds of security forces have been deployed at checkpoints across the city, while tanks have rolled through the streets, as many fear a repeat of bloodshed in the capital after 52 demonstrators were gunned down on March 18 by government loyalists.

    Anti-Saleh protesters have named the day a "Friday of enough," while loyalists branded it a "Friday of brotherhood".

    "We stand with the legality of the constitution, we're against chaos and sabotage. And those collaborators [anti-Saleh protesters] want to turn Yemen into another Iraq," Ahmed Shaker, a demonstrator at a pro-Saleh rally, told the Reuters news agency.

    Saleh is looking to stay on as president while new parliamentary and presidential elections are organised by the end of the year, an opposition source told Reuters on Tuesday.

    Saleh held talks with Mohammed al-Yadoumi, head of the Islamist Islah party, once a partner in his government, earlier this week, but the process has collapsed.

    Mass protests have been shaking Yemen for weeks, with demonstrators inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

    Opponents of Saleh's regime complain that the government has failed to meet the basic needs of the country's 23 million people.

    Unemployment is about 35 per cent and 50 per cent for young people. Oil wealth is dwindling and water is running out.

    Saleh, who has served for 32 years, has co-operated closely with the US in the battle against al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, which has used areas of the country that have long been out of state control to launch attacks.

    The president is also battling regional rebellions in the north and south, with the opposition accusing him of exploiting Western fears that al-Qaeda could rise to fill a vacuum if he were ousted.

    State control in Yemen has diminished sharply this month as the massive demonstrations continued to swell in major cities and the government pulled police from many towns.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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