SANAA, Yemen, (AP) – About 2,000 inmates staged a riot at a prison in the Yemeni capital after taking a dozen guards hostage and joined calls by anti-government protesters for the country’s president to step down, a security official said Tuesday.
The unrest in the central prison in Sanaa erupted late Monday, when prisoners set their blankets and mattresses ablaze and occupied the facility’s main courtyard, the official said.
The guards fired tear gas and gunshots into the air but failed to subdue the prisoners, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. He said troops beefed up security outside the prison on Tuesday and that a number of inmates were hurt in the unrest. According to the official, the prison revolt was still going on Tuesday.
Yemen has been rocked by weeks of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, inspired by recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that ousted those nations’ leaders.
A crowd of women joined a demonstration Tuesday in the southern port city of Aden after a young protester was critically wounded by a bullet to the head during a rally there the previous day. Local officials said 25 protesters were arrested during Monday’s demonstration.
Also, tens of thousands took to the streets in the cities of the southern Ibb province on Tuesday, calling on the government to bring to justice those responsible for a deadly attack there Sunday by what opposition activists said were “government thugs” who descended on protesters camped out on a main square. One person was killed in that violence and 53 people were hurt.
There have been calls for widespread demonstrations Tuesday all across Yemen in support of the demands of Ibb protesters.
In the southeastern Dhamar province, which witnessed small demonstrations in the past two weeks, thousands took to the streets Tuesday calling for Saleh’s ouster.
There were large demonstrations also in the mountainous province of Shabwa, where the U.S-Yemeni radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is believed to be hiding, and in the provinces of Hadramawt and Taiz.
In Sanaa, the capital, security measures were tight Tuesday and the army deployed armored cars at the main streets junctions and those leading to the president’s office, the Central Bank, Sanaa University and sensitive government buildings.
The prisoners rioting in Sanaa also demanded better prison conditions, permission to receive food parcels, medicine and money from their families and demands that they be allowed to make unfettered telephone calls to relatives.
In an attempt to quell escalating protests, the embattled president called for national dialogue after meetings Monday with the country’s top political and security chiefs. The state-run news agency said the conference would be held Thursday and would include thousands of representatives from across Yemen’s political spectrum.
But the Yemeni opposition swiftly rejected the call, with opposition leader Yassin Said Numan saying there would be no dialogue unless Saleh agreed to step down by year’s end.
Saleh has held on to power for 32 years and has failed to quell the protests with a pledge not to run for re-election in 2013.
Even before Yemen was hit by the wave of protests that began in mid-February, it was increasingly chaotic, with a resurgent al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south and an off-on Shiite rebellion in the north.