Street protests demanding a new government that began in Tunisia and Egypt have now spread to Yemen.
As many as 16,000 demonstrators have gathered at four sites across the capital, Sanaa. “The people want a change of president” they chanted, carrying banners that also called for an improvement in living standards in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The protests have so far been calm, with dozens of police officers armed with batons present to keep a close eye on the situation.
Saleh has been in power in Yemen for over 30 years and is a key ally of the United States in its efforts to combat al-Qaeda, which has recently enjoyed a resurgence in Yemen. His coalition has proposed an end to presidential term limits, leading many Yemenis to believe Saleh wants to be president for life. The protesters want him to leave office now.
“Either the President understands or he does not. We are against him; we have had enough of this political dynasty. This is only the beginning. We are going to carry on protesting,” said one man.
“We have come here today to demonstrate. All these people here have come from right across Yemen. We want the president to stand down and the government to hold fresh, legitimate elections as soon as possible,” added another.
Saleh’s party has recently offered some concessions to demonstrators, such as pay rises for civil servants, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the recent unrest in Tunisia which unseated long-ruling President Ben Ali.
Rising unemployment and dwindling oil and water reserves are among the economic problems facing the country, where a third of the 23-million strong population suffer from chronic food shortages. Authorities also face two separate rebellions in the north and south of the country. Western governments fear the economic hardship is providing al-Qaeda with favourable conditions for recruiting young Yemenis.