Yemen Fury Over Tear Gas Attack On Protesters

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Protests resumed in Yemen on Monday after a fruitless meeting with Gulf mediators and late night demonstrations turned violent in Sanaa.

The streets of Sanaa appeared quiet on Monday following overnight clashes with security forces.

Late on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of men and women protested against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s call for an end to men and women demonstrating together against the regime, and called for his ousting.

Riot forces soon attacked them, opening fire and shooting tear gas grenades, leaving 30 people injured by live rounds and 1,000 suffering from suffocation, a medic at a Sanaa hospital said.

Security forces also used water cannon to disperse demonstrators as police cars carried away many wounded protesters, witnesses said.

Early on Monday, residents took to the streets in the Red Sea city of Al-Hudaydah to protest against the use of force against Sanaa demonstrators.

Similar demonstrations in solidarity with the Sanaa protests were also held late on Sunday in other cities across Yemen – Taez and Dhamar, south of the capital, and the main southern city of Aden.

After a meeting in Saudi capital Riyadh with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states ministers on Monday, leading Common Forum opposition activist Mohammed al-Sabri said: ‘The opposition has succeeded in conveying its point of view to Gulf Arab monarchies’ on the necessity of Saleh’s departure.

Arab Gulf monarchies ‘must understand that every day Saleh’s regime remains in power will be on the account of their stability’, added Sabri.

Speaking late on Sunday after the Riyadh talks between Yemen’s opposition and Gulf ministers, Sultan al-Atwani of the Unionist Nasserist Party said: ‘We demand the abdication’ of Saleh.

‘We favour the Gulf initiative . . . but we reject the paragraph in the final communique of the April 10 GCC foreign ministers’ meeting proposing a transfer of presidential powers, we demand the abdication of the president,’ he said.

On April 10, the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) had appealed to Saleh to ‘announce the transfer of his powers to the vice-president,’ Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

It also called for the formation in Yemen of ‘a government of national unity led by the opposition’ which would be responsible for ‘establishing a constitution and organising elections’.

US and European diplomats have over the past week been working to bring the opposition and Saleh’s camp together, a Western diplomat said.

‘The Common Forum has obtained American and European assurances on the success of the GCC initiative, especially for a rapid departure of President Saleh,’ said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But Sabri said that the parliamentary opposition does not represent the demonstrators, apparently fearful of the reaction of protesters on the streets who have suffered more than 125 deaths in clashes with Saleh’s security forces.

A statement issued after the meeting in the Saudi capital said the GCC would hold discussions with the government in Sanaa, but did not specify a date.

Saleh’s office last week said in response to the mediation bid of the six-nation GCC he has ‘no reservation about transferring power peacefully and smoothly within the framework of the constitution’.

Saleh has so far insisted on overseeing any transition, fearful of being dumped out of office and faced with prosecution like his ally, Egypt’s ex-president Husni Mubarak, who was ousted on February 11 following mass demonstrations.

l Secretary general of OPEC Abdullah El-Badri said on Monday that oil producers are ‘concerned’ at high crude prices and added that markets are adequately supplied.

‘The (high) oil price is a concern. We see that there is a $15-20 premium risk at this time,’ Badri told reporters when asked if OPEC was concerned about soaring crude prices.

He was speaking ahead of a round table meeting for Asian energy ministers who are expected to discuss the impact of oil prices on the economy.

Oil dipped in Asian trade on Monday as traders took profits after gains last week.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May fell 70 cents to $108.96 a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for June fell 42 cents to $123.03.

Badri’s comments also came after the head of the International Energy Agency, Nobua Tanaka, said oil prices were ‘very high’ and that his group was alarmed that this could undermine economic growth and crude demand.

In response, Gulf oil producers on Monday assured consumers of sufficient supplies to help stem rises in prices fuelled by sweeping unrest in the Middle East and speculative trade.

‘Certainly, Saudi Arabia’s position in the world oil market is based on its commitment to maintaining spare capacity for the sake of price and market stability,’ Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told the round table meeting.

Naimi said the kingdom had spare capacity of more than 3.5 million barrels per day which Riyadh can use whenever the need arises.

Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad Abdullah al-Sabah said the situation is different from 2008, when oil prices shot to an all-time high of $147 per barrel, because of abundant spare capacity.

But he said the ‘volatility of prices poses a significant dilemma,’ attributing the sharp rise in prices to a combination of factors.

‘The increase in oil prices is due to the loss of large volumes of sweet crude from the market (Libyan oil), expansionary monetary policy, a weak dollar, fear of spread of political unrest to other producers and the resilient demand in . . . Asia,’ the Kuwaiti minister said.

He also said that oil traders are driving prices higher and amplifying price signals amid rampant speculative trade.

l The US government has been secretly financing Syrian opposition groups, including a satellite TV channel beaming anti-regime programming into the country, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Citing previously undisclosed diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks, the newspaper said the London-based Barada TV channel, which began broadcasting in April 2009, has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria.

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles, The Post said.

Classified US diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funnelled as much as $6 million (4.1 million euros) to the group since 2006, the report said.

Protests calling for greater freedom and sweeping political reform erupted in Syria on March 15, posing an unprecedented challenge to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, in power since 2000.

Assad on Saturday pledged to lift almost 50 years of emergency rule within a week, but the gesture was brushed aside as not enough and was followed by new protests.

The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under former president George W Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005, the report said, adding that it has continued under President Barack Obama.

The cables provided by WikiLeaks show that some US Embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, The Post said.

Syrian authorities ‘would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,’ the paper quoted one of the cables from a top-ranking US diplomat as saying.

‘A reassessment of current US-sponsored programming that supports . . . factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,’ the cable went on to say.