SANAA (AFP) – Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered his forces Thursday to offer “full protection” to anti-regime protesters and loyalists alike, after 15 people died in an uprising against his rule.
Saleh “instructed all security services to thwart all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between pro- and anti-government protesters,” read an official statement.
The statement, published on the Yemeni state news agency SABA, demanded security services grant “full protection” to all demonstrators and urged protesters to “remain vigilant” against infiltrators seeking to ignite violence.
Two anti-government protesters were killed early Wednesday when government supporters opened fire on the Sanaa sit-in, bringing to at least 15 the total number of deaths in a crackdown on a revolt against Saleh since February 16.
Violent clashes between anti-regime protesters and Saleh loyalists have taken place almost daily since the protests began, leaving scores of people hurt.
Hundreds of black-clad Yemeni women on Thursday joined thousands of protesters who have been camping out since Sunday in an impromptu tent city outside Sanaa University.
Members of the university’s professors’ union also turned out Thursday to support the demonstrators, who have one demand: that Saleh step down.
While the 64-year-old leader has resisted pressure to resign, on February 2 he said he will not seek a new mandate when his term ends in 2013.
He also promised political reforms and shelved a plan for parliamentary elections that the opposition had denounced.
The uprising against Saleh, who has been in power since 1990, was inspired by similar revolts that toppled the seemingly unshakeable presidents of Tunisia and Egypt.
Ten MPs with Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) have resigned from parliament in protest at the government’s crackdown on the widening demonstrations, which have spread to the southern areas of Hadramawt and Aden.
Protests also surfaced in north Yemen this week, where tens of thousands demonstrated in Shiite rebel Huthi stronghold of Saada to demand the president step down.
The Zaidi Shiite rebel movement from 2004 fought six wars with Saleh’s government before signing a truce in February 2010.
Rights group Amnesty International has urged Saleh’s government to end its crackdown on anti-regime protesters.
“This disturbing development indicates that the heavy-handed tactics which we have seen the security forces using with lethal effect against protesters in the south of Yemen are increasingly being employed elsewhere,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The rights group also called for the release Hassan Baoum, an opposition leader who was detained on February 20th and has since been held incommunicado, Amnesty said.