SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in several cities around the country Wednesday to protest government corruption and rising prices.
The demonstrations, which were organized by a coalition of five opposition parties, drew a sharp rebuke from authorities which said the gatherings did not serve development and stability.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Monday that the planned protests intended to “prepare the streets for disorder, tension and create bottlenecks which do not serve the economy, stability and security.”
The main rally was held in the southern city of Taiz, the second largest city after the capital San’a, where about 3,000 protesters marched through the main streets under the watchful gaze of police in full riot gear. No violence was reported at the rallies.
A spokesman for the five-member opposition coalition, Mohammed al-Sabri, denied Saleh’s charges and said the opposition had no intentions of fomenting chaos but was within its rights to stage protests. “The constitution and the laws guarantee our right to go to the streets in a peaceful protest,” al-Sabri told The Associated Press, speaking by phone from Taiz. “Those causing disorder are the corrupt people in the regime who have failed to manage the country’s affairs correctly.”
The spokesman pointed to the president’s recent move ordering the import of wheat after its price went up about 25 percent. Prices of staples such as flour, sugar and rice have also increased by 25 to 50 percent. “The country’s wealth is being plundered, corruption in the government is widespread and the country’s stability is shaken,” said al-Sabri. «These protests are an urgent message to the government to seriously confront these dangerous problems.”
Other cities and towns witnessed smaller demonstrations, mainly by retired military personnel and civilian pensioners who were also protesting low pensions.
Demonstrations last week in three southern towns left at least two people dead, local media said, although police denied any fatalities.
The most violent demonstrations in Yemen took place in July 2005 when 36 Yemenis were killed in three days of rioting in several towns sparked by new government policies abolishing subsidies on fuel and certain commodities.
Yemen, a poor tribal Sunni country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and a declared U.S. supporter in the campaign against terrorism, has struggled with poverty, a spate of Islamist attacks and a Shiite Muslim uprising in the north which ended in a cease-fire earlier this year. The central bank reported revenue of US$1.5 billion in oil sales in the first four months of 2007, but most is believed to have been spent on armaments and security.
Unemployment in Yemen, according to government statistics, is at 36.8 percent.