Yemeni police with clubs yesterday beat anti-government protesters who were calling for the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, while thousands of Algerians defied an official ban on demonstrations in the capital and gathered in the city center for a pro-reform protest, the day after weeks of mass protests in Egypt succeeded in toppling the president.
The crackdown in Yemen reflected an effort to undercut a protest movement seeking fresh momentum from the developments in Egypt, where an 18-day uprising toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
The US is in a delicate position because it advocates democratic reform, but wants stability in Yemen because it is seen as a key ally in its fight against Islamic militants.
Hundreds of protesters had tried to reach the Egyptian embassy in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital yesterday, but security forces pushed them back. Buses ferried ruling party members, equipped with tents, food and water, to the city’s main square to help prevent attempts by protesters to gather there.
There were about 5,000 security agents and government supporters in the Sana’a square named Tahrir, or Liberation. Egypt’s protesters built an encampment at a square of the same name in Cairo, and it became a rallying point for their movement.
Witnesses said police, including plainclothes agents, drove several thousand protesters away from Sanaa’s main square on Friday night. The demonstrators tore up pictures of Saleh and shouted slogans demanding his immediate resignation.
Saleh has been in power for three decades and tried to blunt unrest by promising not to run again. His term ends in 2013.
In Algeria, protest organizers estimated that about 10,000 had flooded downtown Algiers, where they skirmished with riot police attempting to block off streets and disperse the crowd. Some arrests were reported.
Protesters chanted slogans including “No to the police state” and “Bouteflika out,” a reference to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999.
“It is a state of siege,” said Abdeslam Ali Rachedi, a university lecturer and government opponent.
Under Algeria’s long-standing state of emergency, protests are banned in Algiers, but the government’s repeated warnings for people to stay out of the streets apparently fell on deaf ears.
The success on the “people’s revolution” in Egypt and Tunisia, which pushed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on Jan. 14, looked bound to fuel the hopes of those seeking change in Algeria, though many in this conflict-scarred country fear any prospect of violence following the brutal insurgency by Islamist extremists in the 1990s that has left an estimated 200,000 dead.
Organized by the Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria, an umbrella group of human rights activists, unionists, lawyers and others, yesterday’s march was aimed at pressing for reforms to push Algeria toward democracy and didn’t include any specific call by organizers to oust Bouteflika.
A spokesman for the opposition RCD party said police had arrested 1,000 demonstrators. An interior ministry statement said 14 people were detained and immediately released.