Archive for April 2011
Special from Yemen: Regime forces open fire on protesters rejecting GCC-brokered plan By: Shatha Al-Harazi Thu, 28/04/2011
Sanaa — Violence marred anti-government protests in Yemen on Wednesday, as thousands took to the streets of Sanaa and the country’s provincial capitals in rejection of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative tentatively endorsed by the regime and Yemen’s main opposition bloc. Clashes erupted between demonstrators and republican guards in Sanaa, claiming at least 12 lives and injuring hundreds. Pro-regime forces reportedly fired AK-47’s from rooftops down to demonstrators on the ground while protesters set cars ablaze with Molotov cocktails. Thugs also kidnapped thirty of those wounded, protesters said. “The regime uses violence and live ammunition to make the public rejection to the GCC initiative larger to achieve its aim of shirking the agreement,” the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the country’s opposition coalition, said in a statement on Thursday. Protesters in Sanaa’s Tagheer (Change) Square, the epicenter of the Yemeni uprising sweeping the nation, also denounced the violence, saying President Ali Abullah Saleh continues to brutally suppress the people in order to retain power. “Whenever there is an initiative, Saleh increases his killing of protesters,“ said Walid al-Amari, the protester elected to oversee the main stage in Tagheer Square. “Saleh won’t leave by international pressure. He will only leave at the hands of Yemenis.” Major General Ali Mohsen, the top military officer who defected last month, urged protesters to remain patient while claiming his forces are working to ensure the violence will not escalate. Demonstrators, who have flooded the streets of Yemen’s urban centers for the past three months, say the GCC-brokered deal serves President Saleh, in office for 33 years, and opposition parties. They say the accord is an affront to the country’s popular revolution. “We are stronger than the political parties,” said one young protester in Sanaa. “Today is it clear that the youth are the ones who revolted. We have 13 demands that we still want negotiated.” Youth demonstrators on Wednesday vowed to escalate an already resilient, forceful and enduring protest movement. They now pledge to block important streets in Yemen’s capital and march to “sensitive places to the state,” possibly including the presidential palace. In defiance of the popular rejection of the GCC-orchestrated agreement, the JMP confimed on Tuesday they and the General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s ruling party, will sign the agreement on the initiative next week in Riyadh. Certain terms of the accord remain murky. “Both parties approve of the initiative. The only thing to be agreed upon is the date. We said Sunday. The JMP said Saturday. And the host said Monday,” said presidential information officer Ahmed al-Sofi. The GCC initiative aims to resolve Yemen’s political crisis by transferring power from Saleh to a designated deputy. The day the agreement is signed, the agreement says, Saleh will authorize the formation of a coalition government consisting of 50 percent GPC members, 40 percent JMP members and 10 percent independents. The coalition government, according to the deal, will be formed within seven days of its signing. The government will then work to create a stable political environment geared towards national reconciliation and the removal of all signs of political and security tension, including an end to demonstrations and the re-admittance of defected military forces. On the 29th day after the mutual signing, parliament will pass legislation providing legal and judicial immunity to the president, his family and high-ranking officials. The following day the president will, according to the plan, submit his resignation. Upon parliamentary approval of his resignation, power will be transferred to the vice president. The acting president will then call for a new presidential election within 60 days and form a constitutional committee charged with authoring a new constitution. When the new constitution is finalized, Yemenis will vote on its approval by referendum. Should the country endorse the document, a time schedule will be set for new parliamentary elections. And upon completion of parliamentary elections, the interim president will direct the majority party’s leadership to form a new government. The GCC, the United States and the European Union will, according to the plan, bear witness to the agreement’s implementation. Immunity for Saleh, the Yemeni strongman political dissidents call corrupt and negligent, continues to be the primary reason the Yemeni street rejects the GCC-brokered plan. “Any initiative that doesn’t include prosecuting Saleh and his regime is not acceptable,” said Hussein al-Watari, a young protester. Political analyst Ahmed al-Zurqa says the initiative fails to address the vast majority of the protesters’ demands and, for that matter, dismisses recognition of the true force behind Yemen’s widespread uprising. “The GCC initiative didn’t adopt the street demands at all. It showed the revolution as a political crises between two parties and only included those two parties,” al-Zurqa told the Yemen Times. Al-Zurqa says the GCC refuses to consider the situation in Yemen a popular revolution, preferring to address the crisis as a political conflict. Gulf countries, according to al-Zurqa, will not allow someone with unknown ideological orientation to rise to power in Yemen. The Saudis, who maintain significant influence in the country, are reliant on Yemeni political cooperation to curb Islamist activity along its porous shared border. GCC countries, al-Zurqa continued, also see the threat of contagion in the Yemeni uprising and popular unrest elsewhere throughout the region. Yemen’s neighbors are steadfastly working to keep the pro-democracy movement sweeping the Arab World outside their borders. Al-Zurqa says Saleh’s endorsement of the deal is merely a ploy to bide time and configure a way to stay in power. JMP officials agree, saying Saleh will never respect the agreement when the time comes to relinquish the presidency. “He is well known for not respecting agreements, just like what he did in 1993 when he agreed on unity with the south and came on 1994 with the war,” said al-Zurqa. Some analysts consider the JMP’s endorsement a stratagem to expose Saleh’s lack of genuine willingness to leave office. But, regardless of its intentions, the country’s main opposition bloc has lost significant credibility on the street by striking a deal. Although developments over recent days mark the best indication so far the country is edging closer towards ending its political crisis, reconciliation and stability remain a distant prospect. Even from the technical perspective. ”The ruling party rejects any compromises the president did so far. Today lots of the ruling party MPs resigned so they are not the majority anymore,” said presidential information officer al-Sofi. The number of resignations is unknown. Should enough MPs leave office, parliamentary approval of Saleh’s resignation will not be possible.
Special from Yemen: Saleh’s ouster will quell gas crisis, economists say By: Shatha Al-Harazi Tue, 26/04/2011
Sanaa — With the opposition’s tentative endorsement of the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal aimed to oust Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office 30 days after signing, the country edges closer to ending its enduring political stalemate. The ramifications of a Saleh departure abound, but Yemeni economists say the regime’s speedy withdrawal is the sole means available to solve one pressing crisis that has plagued the country for a month now: its debilitating gas shortage.
“The gas crisis is firstly political and social,” professor of economics at Sanaa University Dr. Ali told Al-Masry Al-Youm. ”It affects the limited income classes: the workers in restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels.”
Residents of Yemen’s main urban centers, such as the capital Sanaa, have faced problems finding cooking gas in recent weeks due to transportation and security issues. As the regime, the opposition and different tribes place responsibility on each other for the gas shortage, ordinary Yemenis are forced to pay more than 300% the standard price. Many other citizens have lost their jobs and only incomes as a result of the crisis.
The shortage is exacerbating an already bad economic situation in one of the Arab World’s poorest countries. In an attempt to pressure the government to solve the issue, Yemenis equipped with empty gas barrels are taking to Sanaa’s streets in protest.
“I never thought that one day I will use this method to demand anything but life is hard, and I have to feed my family,” said one demonstrator. “The gas that we used to buy for YR1100 we now hardly find for even YR3500.”
Sanaa resident and former restaurant owner Twafiq Mohammed says he lost roughly YR2,000,000 due to the crisis. He was forced to shut the doors to all his establishments and fire his 160 employees.
“We used 35-40 gas barrels a day at the restaurant a week ago,” said Mohammed. “When the price became YR5000 I had to close down.”
Although meager amounts of natural gas come from refineries in Aden, the vast majority of the resource is found in Marib Governorate. The Marib supply must feed nearly all of Yemen’s 24 million people. The Yemeni government blames the gas crises on the political opposition and provincial tribes who control Marib Governorate.
“Marib is all under Major General Ali Mohsen [head of the first armored division] and his tribal allies that belong to Al-Qaeda,” said presidential information officer Ahmed al-Sofy.
In a move that tipped the balance in favor of pro-democracy demonstrations that have filled the streets of Yemen for three months now, Mohsen defected in March and vowed to protect the country’s protest movement.
But Major Colonel of the first armored division Abdalsalam al-Ayani says the gas crisis is fabricated by the regime to intimidate citizens and deter them from continuing to demand Saleh’s ouster.
“Everyone knows by now that there is no Al-Qaeda at all in Yemen,” al-Ayani told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Such logic is dismissed by some members of the international community, such as the United States, who consider Yemen a bastion of Islamist radicalism and President Saleh a bulwark against its expansion. US officials, however, have indicated in recent weeks they are withdrawing their unconditional support for the three-decade-long strongman.
After the onset of protests, the Yemen government lost control of vast swathes of the country. To fill the security vacuum, Marib’s Abeeda, Jehm and Al-Jda’an tribes have collaborated to protect the Marib–Sana’a highway, the primary conduit of gas to the country’s capital, when they seized control of the area two months ago.
Last Friday armed clashes reportedly erupted between those tribes and the Republican Guards in the Marib town of Sahn al-Jn. State media alleged tribal groups attacked the guards when they deployed to stem prevention of access on the highway by tribal groups.
Shiekh Naji al-Arada of Abeeda, Marib Governorate, on the other hand, accuses state security of seizing trucks passing along the conduit.
“The highway is protected by the tribes, at the beginning of the political crises the tribes in Marib gathered and agreed to protect the public interests in the governorates and never to prevent anything that the citizens benefit from such as gas,” said al-Arada. ”A month ago, when the gas crises started, national security detained 20 gas trucks en route from Mareb to Sanaa.”
In the wake of that incident, according to al-Arada, security seized another 20 gas trucks, claiming they feared the cargo would be confiscated by vandals.
Al-Arada on Friday said the Republican Guard’s Marib leader met with the area’s tribal leaders to apology for the supposed state-sponsored attack.
“The republican guards attacked us with around 40 tanks,” said al-Arada. “We managed to destroy two of them, kill three soldiers were killed, injure 15 and arrest 10 others. We used our Kalashnikovs and bazookas to defend ourselves.”
“The solution is to withdraw the regime as the security and economic crises won’t have a reason to continue.”
But even if Saleh’s departure returns security to the embattled country, Yemenis will be suffering aftershocks from the crisis for years to come. According to Ali Al-Ashal, a member of parliament’s oil and development committee, the gas crises will sustain itself through 2029 should the current production and distribution atmosphere remain in place.
Yemen produces 20000 barrels of gas a day. That amount sufficiently serves the local population. Back in 2005, however, Yemeni officials signed a contract to export natural liquid gas with the French company Total and the South Korean firm Co Gas. Gas exports, according to the contract, began a twenty-year term in 2009.
The parties stipulated imbursement at US$3.2 for the one metric ton over the following 18 years of production when international prices, at the time, rated US$13.
Today that deal deprives Yemen of nearly half its reserves. Moreover, one metric ton figure now sells for US$16 on the international market. Yemeni MP’s are jockeying to push a corruption case against the regime. They say Yemen suffers substantial losses as a result of the deal.
In an attempt to cope with the crisis, Yemeni officials have imported three shipments of gas since the onset of the crisis. Twenty thousand tons of cooking gas, the Yemen Times recently reported, is due for arrival in the country this week.
“There are no doubts that changes in the regime will get Yemen out of this crisis. What led us to it in the first place is corruption and poor administration,” said Al-Ashal. “If the youth revolution succeeds it will put us in a better position to cancel this deal which harms Yemeni interests.”
If not for the revolution I wouldn’t know how great Yemenis are, unique, and brave. Today the sense of belonging finally knew its way to my heart. All those disagreements, differences melt to emerge the best in us. I won’t talk about Houthis coming along with Islah, I won’t talk about tribesmen giving up their weapons, I won’t talk about women walking proudly in the most crowded place in Yemen and not being harassed. This is all old news now. I will talk about saleem the 11 years-old boy who went to al-Tagheer square by luck and lost his eyes by a sniper. Saleem is just a smell boy with a huge Yemeni inside him just like the others when he heard the shooting he ran. They all ran but only in Yemen they run toward the shooting. I remember how surprised my friend Iona Craig was when she told me how brave Yemenis are and that she has never seen such a thing any where ales but Yemen. I will talk about Me .finally not for the revolution I wouldn’t know how great Yemenis are, unique, and brave. Today the sense of belonging finally knew its way to my heart. All those disagreements, differences melt to emerge the best in us. I won’t talk about Houthis coming along with Islah, I won’t talk about tribesmen giving up their weapons, I won’t talk about women walking proudly in the most crowded place in Yemen and not being harassed. This is all old news now. I will talk about saleem the 11 years-old boy who went to Al-Tagheer square by luck and lost his eyes by a sniper. Saleem is just a small boy with a huge Yemeni inside him, just like the others when he heard the shooting he ran. They all ran but only in Yemen they run toward the shooting. I remember how surprised my friend Iona Craig was when she told me how brave Yemenis are and that she has never seen such a thing any where ales but Yemen. I will talk about Me. Finally I found me when I felt there is a role that can’t be done by anyone ales. When I felt the history will prosecute me if I didn’t dedicate my time to add for this revo and to learn from these wonderful people. If it’s for revo I wouldn’t know how great, creative Yemenis there are. I wouldn’t become friends and learn from Farida, that modest women who joined the protest from the second day Afrah Nasser, Atiaf, , Sarah, Arwa, Ashwaq the 17 years-old girl who hide her school uniform run from school to help organizing the square, And many many more.
It’s a new Yemen that believes in sharing, understanding and acceptance.
YT photo by Abubakr Al-Shamahi
SANA’A, Apr. 20th — All across Yemen this week, more violence broke out against pro-democracy protesters. Last Wednesday, five protesters were killed in Sana’a and two in Ta’iz when clashes erupted between demonstrators, security forces and pro-government thugs wielding AK-47s.
The Science and Technology Hospital on 60 Meter Road near Sana’a University’s Change Square received at least 140 injuries that day. Four of those injured are in critical condition and remain in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Four volunteer female medical students were also arrested by Central Security Forces during the protesters’ march up 60 Meter Road.
“We were holding an emergency operation, trying to save the two [protesters] who died last night, but they passed away during the operation,” said Dr. Mohammed Al-Obahi, head of the pro-democracy demonstration’s field hospital.
“We are experiencing an acute shortage of general supplies, drugs and oxygen. We often have to transfer some cases to the nearby Kuwait hospital for triage,” he continued.
The Science and Technology Hospital received most of Wednesday’s injuries due to its proximity to the fighting. The protesters began marching from Change Square at 4:00PM, passing Al-Zubeiry Street to 60 Meter Road, near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to protesters, security forces tried to stop the march in Al-Zubeiry Street, which is where the clashes began. The Yemen Times has also learned that the protesters managed to arrest Colonel Genera, the leader of the security forces who gave the final order to attack. Seven pro-government thugs were also arrested by the protesters’ security committee.
“We seized their weapons and the rocks that they intended to throw at us, and we will turn them over to the prosecutor’s office,” said Salem Alaw, a member of the National Organization for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms.
According to the revolutionary media committee, one soldier was injured in the clashes and four volunteer female medical students rushed to treat his injuries. However, when they found the injured man, more soldiers rushed towards the women and arrested them.
Regarding the four arrested women, Walid Al-Amari, the protester responsible for managing Change Square’s main stage, said, “We gave an address on the Square’s stage that was broadcast to all of the other squares in the country, demanding their [the women’s] release. Otherwise, we will escalate.”
At the same time, Ahmed Al-Sofi, President Saleh’s information secretary, told the Yemen Times that not a single bullet was shot by the armed forces and that the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) should be held responsible for the killed protesters.
“All the gunfire came from the roof of the Saba phone company and from Asr mosque,” said Al-Sofi. “There are eyewitnesses who have confirmed that the armed forces didn’t use any bullets.”
Al-Sofi also said that national security was in the street simply to prevent any clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters, as a pro-government march was taking place at the same time.
He alleged that the JMP are responsible for killing the protesters. “They want to depict themselves as martyrs of the revolution,” insisted Al-Sofi. “The armed forces did not shed a single drop of blood.”
Meanwhile, according to a statement made by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), reporter Ahmed Al-Mohamadi was kidnapped by the Republican Guard last Saturday. Al-Mohamedi works for the Suhil opposition news channel, which has been actively covering events at Change Square.
According to the CPJ, Al-Mohamedi received a phone call on Saturday evening from the Office of the Republican Guard, summoning him to appear for questioning. Since then, he has disappeared.
According to Al-Mohamedi’s brother, the journalist had already been contacted on Thursday by two officers of the Republican Guard who asked him to resign from his post at the news station and work as a government informant. Al-Mohamedi declined.
The CPJ called upon Yemeni authorities to reveal Al-Mohamedi’s whereabouts.
Journalists have faced increasing levels of persecution over the course of the Yemeni crisis. On Saturday, security forces beat four freelance journalists who write for the independent weekly Al-Nidaa and the state-owned Al-Thawra.
According to the CPJ, Hamood Al-Hasimi, a journalist working for the independent daily Al-Oula, was beaten by a group of unidentified men while covering Friday’s pro-democracy protests in Taiz. Shortly before the attack, he received an anonymous phone call ordering him to stop his coverage and to leave the scene immediately.
Also on Friday, security forces seized a shipment of independent daily newspapers that included Akhbar, Al-Yawm, Al-Oula and Al-Shari. According to the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, the seizure took place at a checkpoint in the southern governorate of Hodeida. The driver transporting the newspapers was beaten.
“We call upon the Yemeni authorities to bring an immediate end to all forms of violence against the media, as well as to lift censorship,” said the CPJ.
A very different culture has evolved in ‘Change Square’, the area around Sana’a University that has become the central location for anti-government demonstrators in the capital. The announcements that are made from the stage in the square affects strongly the mentality of the protesters, and the stereotypes about them that have been drawn by observers.
Back on Feb. 20, when the protests were still just starting, the stage was smaller and used mostly to repeat the slogans of the revolution, such as “the people want the withdrawal of the regime.” However, the revolution has grown, and has now continued for over 12 weeks. The stage has increased in size and its role has evolved with the protests.
On the first Friday of the protests, there were only four speakers to broadcast the message of those who took to the stage to address the protesters. Each Friday the number of speakers grew, until now there are at least 80 speakers that broadcast the message over the entire sprawling protest area.
“Friday’s are special, as more people join whether for the prayers and the speeches, or just to join the sit-in. We need everybody to be updated on the revolution’s latest news and discussions, so it’s important to make sure the sound reaches everyone from the stage,” said Walid Al-Amari, who is among those who first setup the stage.
Some describe the stage as “the spirit of the revolution” given the influence and impact it has upon those at the protest. It has, however, also been the cause of conflict between the different youth movements, and some of those belonging to the Islah Party, the largest political block that makes up the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).
The JMP decided to join demonstrations at the square on Feb. 21. The Islah party took upon itself the responsibility of organizing the demonstration area. They started by organizing the stage, then went onto putting their mark upon the financial and donations committee, the protest security committee, and the field hospital. They seemed to want a role in even the smallest details of the protest camp. In March, conflicts started between Islah’s members and independents in the revolution, beginning with the stage.
“Controlling the stage means controlling the message that one delivers to the people, who have full trust in what is said on the stage, which is dangerous,” said one of the independent protesters.
According to Al-Amari, the conflict over the stage has now been solved. There are two committees that share responsibility for the stage. One includes ten of the founders of the stage, and the second arranges the program schedule and receives participants from the audience that want to share their point of view.
Various shows and discussions are held on the stage. Arrangements are announced, and sometimes humor takes over the stage. The program usually starts at 9:30 am, though it also depends upon events the day before. If there were clashes during the day before, the program starts later than usual as people are still tired.
The program has two shifts, one from 9:30 am to 4 pm, and a second from 4:3+ to 11:30 pm. The program includes a news hour that summarizes the events of the revolution in the capital and in other governorates.
During clashes with pro-government supporters or security forces, the stage plays a pivotal organizational role. It is the central point for propagating plans of resistance. Announcements are given detailing which areas are being attacked, and rallying calls are made for supporters to join their brothers at flash points. It also provides a central role in coordinating the medical tents, and the movement of medical supplies in the camp. During times of conflict, religious messages are broadcast from the stage to keep the protesters’ motivation high.
“The role of the stage is to mobilize the protesters. It’s also to lift up the spirits [of protesters]. Those people who have left their houses and have stayed on the streets since February need this spirit the most, to continue what they have started. Through the stage we manage to send out the important message of patience,“ explained Al-Amari. “It has the role of directing protesters and determines the location of marches. It is also used to respond to rumors.”
Political and academic discussions are held on the stage to raise public awareness and to share different points of views. “The stage is an institution for acceptance and coexistence between the different groups in the square. There are different religious sects, different political points of views, so a better understanding is built and past conflicts are reduced,” said Al-Amari.
The stage does not exist solely for leaders and organizers, but is also open to the people on the street who make-up the backbone of the protests. They are also given space to have their say and share their views and feelings in front of the crowds. Wedding parties have been held on stage where the groom (but not the bride) dances and gives speeches. It has been the place where engagements have been announced by the groom-to-be and the father of the bride-to-be.
A unique role played by the stage is to hold auctions. Once the motorbike of a martyr from the “Friday of Dignity” was auctioned. At another time a huge cake with the word “Irhal” (leave) written on it was auctioned off. The protesters have formed a special finance committee to handle the protests donations and distribute funds earned from auctions
The program is sometimes host to musical or other artistic events, from the singing of traditional Yemeni songs, to hip hop, to shooting video clips of revolutionary songs.
The protests at ‘Change Square’ in Sana’a, as in other ‘Change Squares’ in many other governorates of Yemen, have brought together a multitude of different Yemenis across the economic, religious and political spectrum like nothing else has before. The protest areas have become the body politic of a new Yemen that projects tolerance, patience, resistance and cooperation. And the stage acts as the beating heart of this vibrant new body.