SANAA — Pro-regime supporters armed with batons and stones Tuesday waded into anti-government protesters trying to march on Yemen’s presidential palace, sparking clashes dispersed by police, witnesses said.
At least three people were injured as the rivals pelted each other with stones, said an AFP correspondent, in a second consecutive day of violence in central Sanaa.
Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters estimated to number 3,000 poured out of Sanaa University for the fourth day straight day to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years.
“The people want to oust the regime” they chanted, picking up the slogan used by demonstrators in Egypt who forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down on the 18th day of mass protests.
As they advanced on Saleh’s palace, supporters of his General People’s Congress (GPC) party using batons and stones confronted the demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones, the correspondent said.
The president’s supporters tried to attack opposition MP Ahmed Saif Hashed, who took part in the protest, but he was protected by fellow marchers, witnesses said.
Demonstrators said police sided with the pro-Saleh militants in dispersing the crowd.
International human rights watchdogs have criticised what they say is Yemeni police violence, in particular the alleged use of electric tasers against protesters.
But cyber-activist Hashem al-Abara, involved in organising the protests in the Arab world’s poorest country through Facebook, vowed the demonstrators would not be intimidated.
“We will continue with the protests and the ruling party’s attacks against our peaceful demonstrations will not set us back,” Abara said. “If Egypt stayed 18 days, it will not matter to us if we stay one, two or three months.”
As tensions soared outside his palace, Saleh announced that his office was open “to listen to the views” of “various segments of society from all the republic’s provinces.”
“These direct meetings between the president and people from various social segments will provide the chance to discuss all the developments and … listen to different views … to serve the country,” the state news agency Saba said.
On Monday, rocks and batons flew in the capital as the protesters — mainly students and lawyers — clashed with police and Saleh’s supporters, witnesses said.
In Taez, south of Sanaa where anti-Saleh demonstrators staged protests on Tuesday for the fourth day straight, similar clashes erupted with regime loyalists, without any casualties reported.
Eight people were wounded in clashes between police and thousands of protesters in Taez the previous day, witnesses said.
Rights group Reporters Without Borders condemned what it said were attacks on journalists covering the protests.
“RSF roundly condemns the attacks that security agents, police officers and plainclothes men have carried out against journalists covering street protests in Sanaa during the past two days,” the group said on Tuesday.
The Paris-based media watchdog urged “Yemeni authorities to allow journalists to do their work without fear of being arrested or physically attacked by members of the security forces, who are supposed to protect them.”
Abdullah Ghorab, the BBC’s Arabic correspondent in Yemen, told AFP on Monday he had been beaten by “men from the ruling party” and was left cut, bruised and with a bleeding nose in the incident.
Cameraman Mohammed Omran was beaten and had his mobile phone and watch taken, the BBC said in a statement.
Anger at rampant corruption helped to fuel the protests that led to the ousting of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s presidents and fed the wrath in Yemen.
In Sanaa, protests have becoming increasingly violent, despite Saleh — elected to a seven-year-term in September 2006 — urging dialogue on forming a government of national unity.
The parliamentary opposition, grouped in an alliance known as the Common Forum which has previously led the protests, has suspended its participation in demonstrations after deciding to enter talks with the government.
The Common Forum said on Sunday it was “ready to sign a framework agreement this week… on (resuming) the national dialogue.”
Besides poverty and unemployment, Saleh’s government is grappling a secessionist movement in the south, rebellion in the north, and a regrouping of Al-Qaeda on its soil.