Thousands hold rallies in Yemen

Thousands hold rallies in Yemen

Protesters outside Sanaa University, repeating slogans which have echoed around the Arab world since the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, chanted: “The people demand the downfall of the regime.”

About 4 km  across town, loyalists shouted support for a leader they said was holding the fractured and impoverished tribal country together. “The creator of unity is in our hearts. We will not abandon him,” they chanted.

Seventeen people have died in the past nine days in a sustained wave of nationwide anti-Saleh protests galvanised by the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents. Saleh has said he will not give in to “anarchy and killing”.

A US ally against the Yemen-based al-Qaeda wing that has launched attacks at home and abroad, the Yemeni leader is struggling to end protests flaring across the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest state.

He is also trying to maintain a shaky truce with northern Shi’ite Muslim rebels and contain a secessionist insurgency in the south against northern rule. In the city of Taiz, 200 km  south of the capital, about 10,000 people staged an anti-government protest.

Witnesses said police were present at both demonstrations in Sanaa to prevent either group marching to confront the other.

Outside the university, Saleh’s opponents held an auction to raise money for their campaign, selling a car and a watch, which fetched 600,000 riyals ($3,000).  Saleh supporters in Tahrir Square, many of whom arrived in buses, chanted “Yes to stability, no to chaos”.