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Yemeni security forces kill 60 during protest

September 22nd, 2011

It was called the Arab Spring for a reason. While Egypt was working on their revolution, so was Yemen.

Thousands have been gathering peacefully for months in protest of Ali Abudallah Saleh’s lengthy presidency.

Saleh has ruled Yemen since 1990, and was president of North Yemen for 12 years prior to the country’s unification.

The protests heated up this week in the capital, Sanaa, resulting in the injury of more than 200 people and the deaths of 60 more.

Four of those deaths were children.

It began as a peaceful protest on Sunday, with protesters marching in the streets of the capital when men on rooftops and on the backs of trucks started opened fire.

“I swear to God what happened today is a horrible massacre, and we are not able to even describe it, that the regime would use this violence against peaceful protesters,” said Bassem al-Sharjabi, a lawyer of one of the protesters.

However, an army general claimed “We used tear gas only and water cannon only.”

Fortunately, a cease fire was negotiated by Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansou on Tuesday.

But the cease fire may only delay further attacks.

President Saleh has been in the neighboring country of Saudi Arabia for medical treatment since suffering from an attack by protesters in June.

He put his sons and nephews in charge.

However, political change has been slow in coming and General Ali Mohsin, a top Yemeni general, has developed his own interest group.

A man protesting the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh holds up his blood-stained hands in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday, after security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters in the nation’s capital.

A third group, Hashid, is led by Sadiq al-Ahmar and he represents the country’s most powerful tribe.

Yemen has now become a “struggle between the elites,” according to Mona Debaz, a John Carroll University political science professor, noting that all of these groups are “striving for power.” This creates a very dangerous environment.

Many of this country’s problems stem from systematic issues like, “unemployment, illiteracy, and low standards of living,” said Debaz.

The World Bank estimates that Yemen’s unemployment rate is between 20 percent and 35 percent.

“Ordinary families are telling us they simply don’t have the money to buy even the basics,” said Ashley Clements from Oxfam International, an organization dedicated to solving world hunger.  “Many say they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

The numbers are astonishing. Estimates are that over 7.5 million Yemenis are starving. The World Food Program says that food prices have risen almost 50 percent since the turmoil began.

Eileen Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council said she was concerned about the “increasingly disturbing reports about violence.”

Furthermore, she said, “The United States believes that now is the time for an immediate, peaceful and orderly transition.”

That would be ideal because of the potential of escalation. “It could really become a civil war at this point,” said Debaz.

A peaceful transition would be exactly what the Yemenis want and would also serve the U.S. strategic interests as well.

John Brennan, a White House counter-terrorism advisor said, “The Yemenis have done a good job of finding and arresting and carrying out attacks against Al Qaeda types.”

A safer environment for the Yemenis to operate should help counter terrorism efforts.

But who will lead and when that transition will happen remains unclear.