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Protesters stage huge rally in Yemen's capital

About 100,000 people gather for another peaceful demonstration calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. 'Something has to happen soon,' one demonstrator says, as some analysts fear an impasse could lead to civil war.

March 12, 2011|By Haley Sweetland Edwards, Los Angeles Times
  • Anti-government protesters gather during a rally to demand for the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Yemen.
Anti-government protesters gather during a rally to demand for the ouster… (Reuters )

Reporting from Sana, Yemen — Nearly 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of Yemen's capital on what was billed "the Friday of No Return," as the effort to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh headed toward a potentially dangerous political stalemate, and some warned of the threat of civil war.

Key opposition leaders, buttressed by the mass turnout in Sana, said they would not accept anything but Saleh's immediate ouster. But it appeared that Saleh, a strongman who has ruled for 33 years with an effective mix of compromise, promises and well-dispensed largesse, would accept anything but that.

"Something has to happen soon. There's no other way," said Anwar Kabuti, a student who attended the protest Friday. "After giving our blood for our freedom, do you think all these people will just go home?"

Some worry that if Saleh does strike a political deal with opposition leaders and protesters, civil war could erupt. The country has a combustible mix of well-armed tribal factions and government security forces that are vulnerable to schisms along tribal and family lines.

"I think there will be violence. I don't like to say it, but I think there will be," said Mohammed Mahdi, an activist from Aden, a southern port city. "It seems unavoidable."

On Friday in Sana, demonstrators with the words "leave" and "get out" scrawled in Arabic and English on their foreheads gathered for a peaceful protest just before midday prayers.

For the first time this week, thousands of black-cloaked women appeared en masse to protest, their eyes shining behind slits of black fabric. They occupied a small, cordoned-off section in the center of the square.

The men, their white robes and gold-holstered daggers gleaming in the noon sunlight, stood shoulder to shoulder in long rows stretching for half a mile in three directions down the T-shaped intersection in front of Sana University, the site of what has become Yemen's largest anti-government sit-in.

Children, dressed in the red, white and black of Yemen's tricolor flag, rode on their fathers' shoulders, chanting, "Leave! Leave! Leave, Ali!" the slogan of choice at the anti-Saleh demonstrations.

Many protesters held posters of the young men who have been killed, calling them "martyrs for freedom." More than 30 protesters have died in Yemen since protests began early last month, according to human rights groups. Troops in a town near Aden reportedly opened fire Friday on protesters, wounding at least six.

In a statement Thursday, the European Union's chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton echoed the fears of many in the international community, urging the Yemeni opposition and the ruling party to engage in meaningful dialogue before it's too late.

"Violence must stop and all sides must show calm and restraint," the statement said.

Edwards is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Garrett Therolf in Cairo contributed to this report.

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