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Yemen government forces, protesters clash again

More protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immediate departure are expected Friday. Persian Gulf nations and the U.S. press for a deal to allow him to leave office with immunity.

May 12, 2011|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
  • In the Yemeni city of Taizz, mourners carry the body of a boy slain during clashes between police and antigovernment demonstrators last week.
In the Yemeni city of Taizz, mourners carry the body of a boy slain during… (Khaled Abdullah, Reuters )

Reporting from Cairo — Yemeni security forces and antigovernment protesters clashed violently again Thursday, as Persian Gulf and U.S. officials pressed for a deal that would allow longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave office with immunity.

Government supporters fired gunshots at protesters, resulting in at least two deaths in the tribal town of Bayda and at least one in the commercial city of Taizz. Scores more protesters were wounded as they attempted to blockade government buildings and enforce a general strike.

The Gulf Cooperation Council said Thursday that it was pressing to revive a proposal that would allow Saleh to step down.

"The Gulf initiative is the best solution and an exit out of the country's dramatic situation to stop the bloodshed and to spare the country further deterioration of the security and political division," the council's secretary-general, Abdullatif bin Rashid Zayani, said in a statement.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen nearly 33 years, has refused to step down. Zayani was expected to visit Yemen on Saturday to try to renegotiate.

The U.S. State Department said it supported a deal and called for Yemen's forces to stop firing on protesters.

"We call on the Yemeni security forces to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from violence and respect the rights of the Yemeni people to freely and peacefully assemble and express their views," spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. "We call on the parties to sign and implement the terms of the (GCC) agreement now to ensure an orderly, peaceful transition of power. This transition must begin immediately."

Some opposition leaders said they would consider a deal, but cautioned that Saleh was not to be trusted.

"The gulf officials must understand what's happening here and that a real solution must be found. Saleh plays on their fears, at the same time he employs the utmost force to kill and intimidate his opponents," said Sultan Atawani, head of the opposition Nasserite Unionist party.

More protests calling for Saleh's immediate departure are expected Friday. Protesters have dubbed the day "Friday of Decisiveness," with some saying they had lost faith in the abilities of the council or Western officials to negotiate peace.

"The position of gulf and American officials is amoral and irresponsible," noted Khaled Anisi, a Yemeni protest leader and human rights activist."They want a deal that would give him immunity for his crimes. He lies about his intentions to them and continuously slaughters innocent people."

Some analysts said Saleh may respond to his precarious position by turning to more violence.

"Saleh is an accomplished and canny strategist, but after losing the confidence of regional and international allies, he is dangling by a thread," said Benedict Wilkinson, an associate fellow at the defense think tank Royal United Services Institute. "I think he recognizes that tomorrow is make or break and will make one last effort to stamp out the protests with violence."

A special correspondent in Sana, Yemen, contributed to this report.

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