THOUSANDS OF PROTESTERS seized a base belonging to the Republican Guards in Yemen yesterday, in a move that weakened the control of the country’s president over this Arab nation.
The move came as his forces fired on unarmed demonstrators elsewhere in the capital, killing scores of people, wounding hundreds and sparking international condemnation.
The Guardian reports that two people have been killed today in what is the third day of violence in the country’s capital, Sanaa.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned “the excessive use of force by government security forces against unarmed protesters” and called on all sides “to exercise utmost restraint and desist from provocative actions”, a UN spokesperson said.
The US Embassy said it regretted the bloodshed and called on all parties to “refrain from actions that provoke further violence.”
Government forces used snipers stationed on rooftops, anti-aircraft guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars against the unarmed protesters. Witnesses and security officials described scenes of mutilated bodies, some torn apart. An infant girl, a 14-year-old boy and three rebel soldiers were among the at least 23 people killed on Monday.
A news cameraman, Hassan Wadah, was in a coma after he was shot in the face, according to witnesses. The Telegraph reports that Wadah captured the moment the bullet struck him, as well as the aftermath, on his camera.
Yemen’s foreign minister, Abubakr al-Qirbi, said the government was committed to political reforms.
He rejected claims of excessive force by police and pro-government militia, and accused some opposition groups of terrorist activity.
At the Republican Guard base, the protesters were joined by soldiers from the renegade 1st Armoured Division, and stormed without firing a single shot.
Its capture buoyed protesters’ spirits and was thought by many to signal the beginning of the collapse of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year-old regime.
The clashes continued into last night, with several loud explosions rocking capital Sanaa, and a mortar hitting the Islamic University of Al-Iman, killing one and injuring two others.
Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after a June attack on his Sanaa compound and has not returned to Yemen. He has resisted calls to resign.
In the southern city of Taiz, at least four protesters were killed and 40 others were wounded yesterday.
The latest violence was born partly out of frustration after Saleh shattered hopes raised by the US last week that he was about to relinquish power.
Yemen is close to the major oil fields of the Gulf region and overlooks key shipping lanes in the Red and Arabian seas.
It is also home to one of the world’s most dangerous al-Qaida branches.
UN envoy Gamal bin Omar and Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, secretary-general of a regional alliance that groups Yemen’s six Gulf Arab neighbors, were in Yemen on Monday.
Saleh and King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, met in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
“The situation is tense. It can’t continue like this. This is a sign of deep crisis,” bin Omar told The Associated Press.
Opposition figures refused to meet the envoys.
- Additional reporting by AP