After a brief absence, we're pleased by bring you another dispatch from our friend in San‘a. This entry gives a useful recap of previous incidents of violence against protesters in San‘a, and looks at the possibility of more attacks in the coming days. For al-Thawrat as-Sha‘b in Yemen, the tipping point has now passed and protesters now live in a very tense environment. In Aden the violence reached an extreme degree of violence at the end of February when riot police used dangerous gas against protesters while snipers shot dead a number of demonstrators and individuals linked to the Southern Movement (al-Hirak). In Taiz, escalation peaked when Ahmed Kayran (Security Director) was transferred from Aden to deal with protestors camping out at Tahrir Square (Taiz), and the city was surrounded by armored vehicles from the Republican Guard. While in Sana’a, the situation began to escalate beyond mere clashes between hooligans (baltagiyya) and pro-change demonstrators when check point guards on a side street from Justice St. (Central Security) shot protestors (http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/206707.php) on 8 March. Then the following Saturday snipers and hooligans clashed with anti-government demonstrators on al-Dayri St. This was definitely an escalation from the stone-throwing clashes on al-Rabbat St weeks earlier. Individuals responsible for organizing such violent clashes still remain unknown, although there is plenty of speculation since one of the buildings utilized by snipers on the deadliest day so far, 18 March when 52 anti-government protestors were killed, is allegedly owned by an official in Mahweet.
March 18th was a massacre, and Yemenis doubt it will be the last attempt to violently disperse demonstrators camped out on al-Dayri St. We are now a couple of days of two months since demonstrations began in Sana’a, and the area with tents has grown tremendously from February 4th when only a handful of young students began their sit-in. Friday, the day of the massacre began after Jum’ah prayers when protesters at the periphery began walking across the security corridor in order to pull down fences and break brick walls set up by pro-government hooligans. When the youth began to reach the walls and fences hooligans began to set tires on fire, followed by sniper fire aimed at protestors’ head, eyes, neck and torso (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ELVlCH7nfs). Government officials, including President Saleh, were quick to blame local residents as both having erected the walls and shooting protestors from their home windows in retaliation for public nuisance. Eventually, anti-government protestors managed to capture two snipers and confirmed through their IDs they worked for the government.
Rise of Hooligans
On February 2nd President Saleh pre-empted a protest organized by the JMP by speaking at Parliament and promising to abandon three amendments to the constitution introduced in late December 2010. Also, he order a number of tents set up in Tahrir Square (Sana’a) in order to deprive the JMP from the symbolic location following events in Cairo. Tahrir was then filled with government supporters from Sana’a and surrounding tribal areas. JMP’s protest was then moved to a stage set up next to the Obelisk near the main gate to Sana’a University’s main campus, a spot made permanent by young student protestors since 4 February. The presence of thousands of government supporters prevented pro-change protestors from moving to Tahrir, but the threat of clashes with pro-government hooligans, paid up to YR3000 per day, permanently discouraged the youth from advancing to Tahrir.
These hooligans were primarily recruited by government officials from within Sana’a. Eventually, it is alleged most were recruited from within the police and army as well as known delinquents, often seen walking along al-Dayri street, from the old Sana’a University campus toward the unprotected area near the new campus, carrying wooden sticks and harassing pro-change youth. Recruitment of such hooligans has become more organized since the days of clashes on al-Rabbat st. As of this morning (Sana’a) local residents around the intersection of Zubayri St and Hail St confirmed many of these hooligans are camped in a government own property across from the Ministry of Youth and Sport. This property, often referred to as al-Mu’askar, is used by the Special Forces (under Tarek Muhammad Abdullah Saleh). This property has a large number of men in tents next to a military training area.
People believed there is a clash brewing. On Tuesday 29 March a small group of pro-change demonstrators dared march on Sixty Metter Rd. toward Sabaeen. The group stopped near the Zubayri St. bridge which allowed them to protest in front of Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi (VicePresident) house. The crowd was also forced to make a U-turn back through al-Rabbat St. after a number of hooligans crossed the over pass and settled in tents near Aser road. The hooligans marched from al-Mu’askar on Zubayri st. to the intersection with Sixty Metter Rd., this allowed them a perfect position blocking the protestors advance. Had the pro-change demonstrators continued on Sixty Meter Rd. they would have been completely exposed to attacks by hooligans from atop the bridge. Some Yemenis have mentioned this march was a test by the youth to identify the government’s resources after the 18 March massacre. This tactic was then followed by a mid afternoon march that began at the intersection of Zubayri St. and al-Dayri St., very near the Mu’askar and Ministry of Youth and Sport. The youth marched undisturbed from this intersection to Change Square (Sana’a University) through Agriculture St. They were followed by a number of ambulances.
Escalation is anticipated for the coming days. It seems that while Gen. Ali Muhsin promised to protect protestors at Change Square he failed to position his most experienced soldiers at check points (http://yfrog.com/3wxzgz). It is doubtful these young, inexperienced soldiers from al-Firqa will be able to deter another clash like on 18 March or return fire if hooligans attack the youth. Security is weaker now that tents have expanded beyond City Mart all the way to 20th St.