Al Jazeera – 2011-04-09 00:31:15
Security Forces Fire on Yemen Protesters
(April 8, 2011) — At least two people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more injured after Yemeni security forces fired at protesters in the southern flash-point city of Taiz. About 30 people are reportedly in critical condition.
Hospital sources said more than 100 people were hurt by live bullets while another 1,000 were suffering from tear gas inhalation during Friday’s protests.
Witnesses reported gunshots near the site of an anti-government sit-in in Taiz. The protesters had been carrying the bodies of five people killed earlier in the week to their gravesites when they ran into security forces.
The fresh clashes on Friday between anti-government protesters and the police came as Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, rejected a new deal for him to leave after 32 years in power.
Some 21 people have died in clashes this week in Taiz and the Red Sea port of Hudaida.
In the port city of 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.
And in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, tens of thousands of people assembled for rival demonstrations — with some demanding Saleh’s dismissal and others showing their support.
Police and army units were deployed to prevent any friction between the two sides.
Al Jazeera’s special correspondent in Sanaa, who is not being named for security reasons, said the pro-Saleh demonstrations in front of the presidential palace on Friday were very similar to those seen in recent weeks.
“It is very difficult for Al Jazeera to go anywhere near those protests. We have to rely on what we are seeing on Yemen state television … we can see the mass crowds turning out week after week,” the correspondent said.
“But according to some people in Change Square, where the rival protests are, those people are not there because they genuinely support Saleh but because they are either government forces dressed in civilian clothes or are being paid by the ruling party.”
Our correspondent said such accusations have been going around for weeks, with pro-democracy protesters saying that the more Saleh loses control, the more he is seen firing on anti-government protesters and also trying to ensure there are large crowds at his rallies. Protesters have been calling since January for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.
Saleh initially accepted an offer by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states trying to broker an end to bloody protests and hold talks with the opposition. But he later rejected the plan for his exit in a speech broadcast on state television on Friday.
“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,” he told supporters in Sanaa.
Saleh said: “Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs.”
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Sanaa said: “Saleh addressed his supporters to make a total rejection of the offer put forward by the Gulf Co-operation Council.
“According to that proposal, they had called for him to stand down and hand power to a coalition of tribal leaders and other political figures. But he said, ‘I reject, I reject, I reject’.
“He singled out Qatar and Al Jazeera and said, ‘We don’t have to follow their agenda’.”
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, said on Thursday that members of the six-nation GCC “hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down”.
The GCC has invited Saleh and the opposition to a mediation session in Saudi Arabia. But the government has described the proposal as unconstitutional.
However, Abu Bakr al-Kurbi, Yemen’s foreign minister, said in a statement published on Friday that the government was studying the GCC peace initiative.
More than 120 people have been killed since Yemen’s protests calling for an end to Saleh’s rule began on February 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Protesters Killed in Syrian City
(April 9, 2011) — Syrian security forces have killed at least 27 demonstrators in the southern city of Daraa, amid fresh pro-reform demonstrations, hospital sources and witnesses say.
The deaths occurred after Friday prayers when security forces opened fire with rubber-coated bullets and live rounds to disperse stone-throwing protesters, a witness told Al Jazeera.
Amateur video uploaded to social media websites purportedly showed wounded protesters being treated in the Omari mosque in Daraa.
The state-run SANA news agency had a different take on the events in the flash-point town, saying 19 members of the security forces were killed and 75 people wounded by “armed groups” during the protests.
“According to an interior ministry source, there were 19 martyrs among the police and security forces and 75 wounded by armed groups which used live ammunition in Daraa,” the agency said.
In the east, thousands of ethnic Kurds also demonstrated for reform despite the Syrian president’s offer this week to ease rules which bar many Kurds from citizenship.
Separate protests erupted in the western port city of Latakia, Tartus, Baniyas, Homs, Edlib in the northwest of the country and in other cities.
Gunfire was also heard in Harasta, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, where three people were said to have been killed. Another two protesters were killed in Homs, according to unconfirmed reports.
Al Jazeera‘s Rula Amin, reporting on Friday from Douma, another Damascus suburb, said “it’s a new situation in Syria”.
“We saw thousands of people taking to the streets after Friday prayers, from all walks of life: young and old, professionals and not professionals, educated, not educated, there were some Islamists, some nationalists.
At least 10 people were killed last Friday in Douma, seen as another focal point of protests where demonstrators have set up a vigil outside the mosque.
Popular demonstrations calling for greater freedoms have shaken Syria for the last three weeks. President Bashar al-Assad has responded with a blend of force against protesters, and reform gestures, most recently aimed at ethnic Kurds.
Al-Assad’s overture to Kurds, who make up about 10 per cent of Syria’s 20 million population, came after reports that authorities had released 48 Kurdish prisoners.
Even so, in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Kurdish youths chanted: “No Kurd, no Arab, Syrian people are one. We salute the martyrs of Daraa.” The protests have raised concerns that unrest could fuel ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country.
Friday demonstrations, which online activists have this week dubbed the “Friday of Steadfastness”, have tended to be marked by the largest protests against al-Assad’s 11 years in power. In previous weeks security forces have opened fire, killing dozens.
In Daraa, people first demonstrated last month against the arrest of children who had scrawled pro-democracy graffiti inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings on school walls.
Sunni Muslim tribes there resent the wealth and power amassed by the minority Alawites, the offshoot sect of Shia Islam to which al-Assad belongs.
Mobile phone lines had been cut or were restricted over the last two days, the residents said. Protesters chanted: “The people want the overthrow of the regime”, an echo of slogans elsewhere in the Arab world.
The Baath Party, in power since a 1963 coup and run by al-Assad’s father, Hafez, until his death in 2000, has tolerated no dissent and has used emergency law to justify arbitrary arrests. A prominent demand of the protesters is for the law to be repealed.
Al-Assad has ordered a panel to draft anti-terrorism legislation to replace emergency law, but critics say it will probably grant the state much of the same powers.
He also ordered an investigation into the civilian deaths in Daraa and Latakia last month.
Mazen Darwish, an activist in Damascus, told Al Jazeera that the pledged reforms were positive but not enough. “It’s not about this problem or that problem. It’s about transforming Syria from dictatorship to democracy,” he said. “To change the constitution, open up political life, to have free press and political parties and lift the emergency law.”
Human Rights Watch said before Friday’s violence that more than 100 people had been killed in the protests.
Egypt Security Forces Break up Tahrir Protest
(April 9, 2011) — Street battles between protesters and Egyptian security forces swept through central Cairo on Saturday morning hours after hundreds of army soldiers and Central Security troops stormed Tahrir Square early in the morning to break up a demonstration.
Protesters and riot police threw rocks at each other, and security forces fired tear gas near the Egyptian Museum to disperse the crowds, witnesses said.
Groups of protesters rallying around the southeast corner of the square threw bottles and possibly Molotov cocktails at the riot police, Michelle May, a freelance journalist, told Al Jazeera. They also set vehicles on fire in the square after security forces withdrew.
By 7am Saturday morning, normal street traffic still hadn’t returned to one of the main roads running east from Tahrir Square toward Talaat Harb Square, though the gunfire seemed to have subsided a witness said.
Army Officers Joined Protest
Hundreds of soldiers and security troops stormed the square at around 3am on Saturday, firing shots into the air, brandishing tasers and batons, and beating people to disperse a crowd of thousands of protesters, witnesses said.
Tens of thousands of people had flooded into the square on Friday in one of the largest demonstrations since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11. They spent the day calling for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which nows runs the country, to honour their demands, including prosecuting a number of former high-ranking regime officials, including Mubarak himself.
The protesters had been joined by perhaps as many as 20 military officers, who had been under orders not to participate. Demonstrators stayed in the square past curfew, which run from 2am to 5am, saying they wanted to protect the officers who joined.
When security forces stormed the square, some of the protesting army officers managed to escape, while others were arrested, witnesses said.
Loai Nagati, a student, told Al Jazeera that military police and central security forces took some protesters and beat them, but that nobody had been shot. Speaking while gunfire echoed in the background, he said that some of the army officers who joined the protests had been arrested by security forces.
Witnesses said ambulances could be heard in the vicinity of the square after the assault.
Amr Bassiouny, who was standing at the square’s south entrance near the old campus of the American University in Cairo, told Al Jazeera that hundreds of soldiers backed by eight armoured vehicles entered the square from that direction at around 3am.
The soldiers formed a semi-circle around the south end of the square and advanced toward a tent in the middle, where the protesting army officers had been kept. Soldiers could be seen tearing down the tent in amateur video posted on YouTube.
For 10 or 15 minutes, the protesters and soldiers faced each other, said Sanaa Seif, who had been in the square since 11pm. Protesters chanted “Peaceful, peaceful,” and “The people and the army, hand in hand,” but then the soldiers moved forward again, firing “non-stop” into the air, she said.
Some security forces beat protesters with wooden batons, but Seif said she didn’t see them use tasers or open fire on people.
Most of the protesters fled after the army entered the square, witnesses said. Bassiouny ran to the west side of the square, which leads to Kasr el-Nil Bridge, and found more troops entering from that direction. Seif fled in that direction as well and joined other protesters who attempted unsuccessfully to regroup and come back into the square.
Other protesters tore down the roof of a bus stop and dragged it down the road leading from Talaat Harb Square to Tahrir Square, said Drew Storey, a neighbourhood resident.
Protesters and army soldiers threw rocks at each other, and at least four injured protesters had to be carried away, he said. Soldiers fired their guns into metal shopfronts, sending sparks flying and bullets ricocheting, apparently to scare away the protesters, Story said.
At one point, Storey said, he could see security forces clad in riot gear chanting, cheering and shaking hands after driving the protesters away.
Other Central Security and army forces had been stationed to the north of Tahrir Square, by the Egyptian Museum, which military police have turned into a makeshift detention center in the weeks since Mubarak stepped down. In recent weeks, activists have accused the army of making arbitrary arrests, abusing and torturing prisoners, and subjecting detainees to rapid military justice — all complaints that fueled mass anger against Mubarak’s government.
Though some of the protesting army officers were reportedly arrested, seven or eight escaped the square, Bassiouny said. They had been wearing uniforms, and protesters gave some of them civilian clothes to disguise themselves as they fled, he said.
Seif said she saw a group of people leading some of the protesting officers out of the square. She said she hoped the crackdown would bring more people out into the street to protest.
“I hope so, I mean it happened before, but I think it’s getting better, because people are now more aware that the army is not really that loyal to the revolution,” she said.
Three Gazans Killed in New Israeli Air Raids
(April 8, 2011) — Hamas officials say an Israeli airstrike has killed three of its members, including a senior commander.
Two Israeli missiles struck a vehicle traveling near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip early on Saturday. Hamas says that Tayser Abu Snima and two of his assistants were killed in the blast. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
The strike was one of several against Hamas targets after midnight. It followed the bloodiest day in Gaza in nearly two years.
Nine Palestinians were killed in a series of Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip on Friday, Hamas officials said, a day after an anti-tank shell fired from the salient hit an Israeli school bus, seriously injuring a teenager.
Five of the dead were civilians, bringing to 15 the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli air and ground raids since Thursday. Nearly 40 people were injured in the raids on the southern Gaza Strip and near Gaza City.
Armed groups fired dozens of rockets and mortars at Israel on Friday and around 50 the day before. Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system successfully downed four rockets that were fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon, about 14 kilometres north of the Strip.
Two fighters were killed in a morning raid on Khan Younis. Around the same time Israeli forces attacked Rafah, on the border between Gaza and the Sinai peninsula, Hamas said.
Two days of fighting have seen ten people killed in Gaza, following a Palestinian rocket attack on an Israeli school bus on Thursday. Dozens more have been injured, medical sources said.
Around 15 rockets were fired into Israel on Friday, police said, but no casualties were reported. Both sides have said they hoped to avoid further violence, but an Israeli cabinet minister said the strikes would continue.
“We are acting as we see fit so that this type of fire will not continue, and so that the people behind the fire will regret it,” Matan Vilnai, in charge of the home front, told Army Radio.
Johnston, Al Jazeera’s correspondent, said Hamas “really doesn’t want to risk an escalation of violence with Israel, and that is very clear simply by the fact they said they would stick to the ceasefire”.
She said only one faction in Gaza had said it would not stick to the ceasefire. “It’s one thing for factions and groups to say that they will abide by the ceasefire, but it’s another thing to see them actually stick to it,” she said.
In Thursday’s bus attack, Gaza fighters hit an Israeli school bus near the border with an anti-tank rocket, badly wounding the driver and a 16-year-old boy. The boy remains unconscious in the intensive care ward of an Israeli hospital.
The al-Qassam Brigades said it had shot two missiles early in the day, one of which had hit the school bus. The Brigades said the attack came in reponse to Israel’s killing of three of its members last week.
A senior Hamas official told Al Jazeera: “The Israelis are trying to impose a new formula in Gaza. They are trying to prevent us from taking any benefits in the region.
“They are trying to escalate the situation … The coming few days will carry a lot of developments if things continue like this.”
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has urged western powers to intervene and called on Palestinians “not to give Israel an excuse to hit Gaza”.
Israel has been using its latest cutting-edge missile-defense system for the first time since Thursday.
The Iron Dome system scored a direct hit on an incoming Palestinian rocket aimed at an Israeli city, shooting it down, Israel said.
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