Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday rejected an exit plan announced by Qatar, but his office said he is still open to mediation, as his security forces killed two protesters and wounded dozens.
Fresh clashes broke out in Taiz when hundreds of protesters clashed with police, who fired gunshots and tear gas. Two protesters were shot dead and 25 wounded by gunfire, hospital sources said. Some 200 were hurt by tear gas inhalation.
The protesters had been carrying the bodies of five people killed earlier in the week to their gravesites when they ran into security forces.
In Aden, once the capital of an independent south, thousands of anti-government protesters gathered peacefully and in Hudaida, some 15,000 gathered to mourn protester deaths and demand Saleh step down.
President Saleh told a massive crowd of supporters in Sanaa that “our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs.
“We were born free, and we have free will, and they have to respect our wishes. We reject any coup against democracy, the constitution and our freedom.”
“We don’t get our legitimacy from Qatar or from anyone else…we reject this belligerent intervention,” Saleh said.
His speech came a day after Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani said members of the Gulf Cooperation Council “hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down.”
Following Saleh’s remarks, his office issued a statement carried by state news agency Saba that the president “welcomes the efforts of the GCC, led by Saudi Arabia, to resolve the crisis, but rejects the statements of Qatar, which constitute an unacceptable interference in Yemeni affairs.”
Saleh initially accepted an offer by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to hold talks with the opposition.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis turned out for rival protests in the capital, one supporting the veteran president and the other calling for his departure.
After weekly Friday prayers, supporters in Tahrir (Liberty) Square chanted “with our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for Saleh,” some of them carrying his picture.
“The people want Saleh,” they chanted, in a variation on the ubiquitous opposition slogan, “the people want to topple the regime.”
They then marched from Tahrir to Sabaeen Square, where Saleh delivered his speech.
A few kilometres away, anti-regime protesters massed at a square near Sanaa University, chanting “Go, Ali!”
Clashes were not reported at either demonstration in Sanaa.
The slogan of the anti-government gathering was “Day of Steadfastness,” while the pro-government rally was dubbed the “Day of Reconciliation.”
In a move that could spark clashes, some 700 riot police took up position in an area close to General Ali Mohsen’s forces. The veteran commander defected from Saleh weeks ago, and his troops are protecting a protest camp near Sanaa University. Local officials from Abyan said that military forces were trying to retake the city of Jaar. Agencies