SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni security forces stormed a square early Saturday where thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been camped out for the past month, firing tear gas and live ammunition during a pre-dawn raid that killed at least one person, doctors and witnesses said.
Television footage showed protesters overcome by tear gas lying in the central square in the capital, Sanaa, the site of a monthlong sit-in to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. An ally in the Obama’s administration’s fight against al-Qaida, Saleh has been in power for 32 years.
Shortly after midnight, security troops surrounded the central square with police cars and armored personnel carriers and began calling on protesters through loudspeakers to go home. At 5 a.m., security forces stormed in, firing tear gas and live ammunition.
One protester died from a bullet to the head, which may have come from a sniper on the rooftop of a nearby building, witnesses said. Abdelwahed al-Juneid, a volunteer doctor working with the protesters, said around 250 people were wounded.
The raid came hours after Yemen’s largest demonstrations in a month Friday were met by police gunfire that injured at least six protesters and seemed certain to fuel more anger against the deeply unpopular president.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Yemen’s four largest provinces, ripping down and burning Saleh’s portraits in Sheikh Othman, the most populated district in the southern port city of Aden, witnesses said.
Security forces hurled tear gas into crowds close to a stadium and then opened fire, using machine guns mounted on vehicles, said eyewitness Sind Abdullah, 25.
In the conservative capital, Sanaa, thousands of women participated in demonstrations — a startling move in a deeply tribal society where women are expected to stay out of sight.
Demonstrators demanded jobs and greater political freedom and decried Saleh’s proposal Thursday that the government create a new constitution guaranteeing the independence of parliament and the judiciary, calling it too little and too late.
The autocratic leader is also an ally in the Obama administration’s push to eliminate the local branch of al-Qaida, which has attempted to attack the United States. He has also worked closely with the Saudis to quash his own Shiite uprising in the north.
Yemen was chaotic even before the demonstrations began, with a resurgent al-Qaida, a separatist movement in the south and a sporadic Shiite rebellion in the north vexing the government, which has little control outside major urban areas.