Yemen entered the fourth week of anti-regime protests with a late night onslaught of state violence against protesters at Sanaa University who were demanding the resignation of long-ruling president Field Marshall Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The attack began two hours ago when security forces opened fire on the protesters. Early conflicting reports indicate three have head wounds and died or are in very critical condition. Over 30 were wounded by gunfire and another 40 were injured after being beaten with clubs or choking on tear gas.
Several witnesses reported the medical professionals rushing to the scene were stopped by police. At the same time, the protesters appealed for blood donations and medical supplies via twitter stating several people are bleeding out near the gates of the university. Two medics were beaten by state security.
The crowd that gathered today, international Woman’s Day, had a larger number of women and girls than on prior days.
Witnesses said members of the Republican Guard opened fired along with Central Security forces. The Republican Guard is headed by President Saleh’s son Ahmed, and has received US counter-terror training, .The Central Security forces are under the command of President Saleh’s nephew.
The assault began late in the evening, about 11:00 as protesters were mostly hunkered down for the night or trying to set up new tents. Central Security officers were spotted removing their uniforms before entering the university square. The officers had arrived in government vehicles, witnesses report. The situation remains tense as it nears 1:00 am in Sanaa and the wounded have yet to receive treatment.
The deaths in Sanaa were preceded by fatalities among protesters on Monday in outlying the provinces of Ibb, Aden, Dhamar when state forces opened fire on protesters. In Ibb over 70 were reported injured with bullet wounds at a protest that drew several hundred thousand. Protests have spread as far as Socotra Island. Sanhan, President Saleh’s home village was marked with anti-regime graffiti.
The war torn Saada province saw the resignation of Faris Manna from the ruling GPC party, the latest of over a dozen high profile allies to desert President Saleh. Manna, a long time regime ally, was the state’s mediator to the Houthi rebels. A major weapons dealer, Manaa was sanctioned by the UN in 2010 for smuggling arms to Somalia. Along with Manna, an estimated 300 ruling party officials also resigned leading to what a partisan site called “the emancipation of Saada from the corrupt regime.”
Military deploys in cities
The violence came after a meeting between Saleh and his relative, General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, perhaps the most powerful man in the military. After the meeting last night, military units were deployed in Sanaa, Taiz and Aden today. Large scale protest were held in 12 provinces.
In Sanna, Al Masdar Online reported the “widespread and unprecedented presence of armored vehicles.” The day’s violence marked the first time soldiers had shot at the protesters in Sanaa. Previously the Saleh regime used paid thugs as deniable proxies as well as members of the security forces including the National Security.
A riot at Sanaa Central Prison left at least three dead and four injured. Prisoners were chanting anti-government slogans, which led to an assault by guards. Authorities say they shot tear gas and fired over the inmates’ heads and acknowledge one prisoner was killed, but the prisoners report three fatalities and several serious injuries. The prison guards withdrew from the prison and are massed outside the gates along with security forces.
The prisoners have indicated they wished to make a peaceful surrender in a statement that read in part, “Prisoners of the Central Prison in Sana’a appeal to international organizations to intervene and save them from a real massacre which might take place today after guards retake control of the prison.”
The Yemeni state-owned ISP blocked al Masdar Online last week, the latest among dozens of independent Yemeni news websites to be blocked within Yemen. Internet access is strictly controlled by the state. Yemen Online was hacked by pro-regime operatives. Dozens of what appear to be government operatives have flooded pro-revolutionary Facebook groups. The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate detailed 53 cases of attacks on journalists including assaults, threats against their children, expulsion and in one case, arson.
“Beating up journalists is a blatant attempt by the authorities to prevent the Yemeni people and the world from witnessing a critical moment in Yemen,” Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement.
A Reuters report today quoting an individual in Sanaa who “heard” that in Aden southern protesters threatened to burn schools in Mallah and al Mansoura was hotly denied by dozens of residents in those neighborhood when contacted. The residents also pointed out that the state has forced school children to participate in pro-regime rallies for years without parental approval. It is well documented that students who refused were denied sitting for their exams along with other punitive measures.
Yemen’s history of crimes against civilians
The atrocities against protesters that have garnered global attention are a continuation of the pattern of Yemen’s inhumane treatment of its citizens since at least 2005. In 2009, human rights organizations began calling for an investigation into the Sana’a regime’s potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. The military actions during the Sa’ada Wars and with regard to the southern protest movement are well documented but did not draw condemnation from the Obama administration or the EU. Some of these habitual patterns include:
- Punitive denial of medical services to injured civilians
- Arbitrary arrests
- Incommunicado detention
- Shooting unarmed protesters
- Use of deniable proxies including tribesmen to harm citizens
- Shelling residential areas
- Denial of food as policy
- Denial of access by international humanitarian groups to internal refugees
- Targeting journalists and rights activists
- Torture in jail