Yemeni police stormed a camp set up by thousands of protesters demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule, killing one person and wounding hundreds early on Saturday, witnesses and medical sources said.
Witnesses told Reuters hundreds of security forces, armed with bats and knives and using potent teargas, invaded the area where protesters have been camping for weeks in the capital, Sanaa.
Doctors at the sit-in said police were blocking medical teams from entering the area and one doctor said a young boy had been fatally shot in the head. “We think around 300 are wounded,” he told Reuters, declining to be named.
A wave of unrest, inspired partly by popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, has weakened Saleh’s grip on his poverty-stricken country, home to an agile and ambitious regional Al-Qaeda wing.
Clashes between rock-throwing Saleh loyalists and protesters broke out late on Friday as the demonstrators tried to extend the area of the sit-in to make room for increasing numbers.
Witnesses said police smashed into the site in a pre-dawn raid as protesters were preparing for early morning prayers.
“It felt like a massacre, there were police teams in official uniforms and plain-clothes police and they were attacking the protesters,” one witness said. “They used tear gas and gunfire and chased some people out into the streets.”
“It’s a tragic scene. The wounded are being put in mosques and in surrounding streets because the clinics can’t take them all,” another witness said, again declining to be named.
Protesters later broke down a fence police had put up to try and prevent more supporters from joining the sit-in, but men wielding daggers were stopping people from entering the area.
Washington backs Saleh
In Taiz, 200 km (125 miles) south of Sanaa, clashes broke out between police and protesters, who set fire to a police car.
“Plain-clothed security forces fired on the protesters,” Bushra Al-Maqtari, a leading activist in Taiz protests, told Reuters by telephone.
The police raids on Saturday came the day after record crowds had gathered in Sanaa and other cities across Yemen, in a “Friday of no return,” calling on Saleh to quit and dismissing his offer to draft a new constitution.
In Washington, a top White House aide told Saleh on Friday that the United States welcomed his steps to resolve the crisis and urged opposition groups to heed calls for talks.
“All sectors of the Yemeni opposition should respond constructively to President Saleh’s call to engage in a serious dialogue to end the current impasse,” White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told Saleh in a telephone call, the White House said in a statement.
The United States fears that Saleh’s overthrow might lead to a power vacuum that would be exploited by Islamist militants in the Arabian Peninsula state, from which Al-Qaeda has launched attacks on Western and Saudi targets.
Protesters are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment in a country where 40 percent live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.
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