Yemenis scuffled with police on Tuesday as thousands marched in the capital for a fifth consecutive day in Egypt-inspired protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of the country’s President.
Police tried to disperse the demonstrators using tear gas and batons, but some 3,000 protesters defiantly continued their march from Sanaa University toward the city centre, chanting slogans against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, including “down with the President’s thugs.”
The procession gained momentum with hundreds of students and rights activists joining along the way.
Riot police blocked the main road leading to the city centre and clashed with protesters throwing stones. Three protesters were injured and rushed to the hospital in ambulances.
About 2,000 government supporters also staged a counter-demonstration in the centre, raising concerns about potential clashes.
The protests come as ties between the U.S. and Mr. Saleh have been growing lately over rising alarm in Washington about the activities of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The U.S. military has embarked on a plan to deepen its involvement in training the country’s counterterrorism force to counteract a local affiliate of al-Qaeda that has mounted several attacks against the U.S.
Mr. Saleh, who has been in office for more than 30 years, has been contacting powerful tribal leaders in a bid to enlist their support as he tries to defuse the protests, according to officials familiar with the president’s moves. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The officials said Mr. Saleh feared that his rule would not withstand the pressure of a tribal decision to join the protesters in seeking his ouster. For now, said the officials, Saleh was counting on the security forces and armed backers who support his rule in dealing with the protesters. He also promised to step down in 2013.
Impoverished Yemen is one of several countries in West Asia feeling the aftershocks of pro-reform uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The protests in Yemen have mushroomed since crowds gathered on Friday to celebrate the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after an 18-day revolt fuelled by grievances similar to those in Yemen — poverty, unemployment and corruption.