Government prevents protest against Sa’ada attacks [Archives:2004/771/Front Page]

September 9 2004

Yemeni authorities prevented a demonstration in Sana'a last Monday, planned to call the government to end fighting in north Yemen.
The protest, which was expected to take place at the YSP headquarters, was organized by the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) and backed by other leading opposition parties.
“The authorities prevented many people from entering the area near the YSP headquarters,” said Ali Saleh Obad, Secretary General of the Yemen Socialist Party. “Most people were afraid to come and only representatives of parties and a few scholars, parliament members, and lawyers were allowed to come. Now that its time to fight terrorism, it appears that everything is prevented by rules fighting terrorism.”
It was the second protest in recent days, against the ongoing clashes between Yemeni forces and followers of Muslim cleric Hussein Al-Houthi, to be stopped by the authorities. A demonstration scheduled for last Friday at Al-Shawkani mosque was called off due to orders to protest leaders, from the authorities.
The YSP's headquarters was surrounded by blockades and soldiers, who did not allow the gathering of people wishing to participate in the protest.
Cameras were not allowed near the headquarters, and high-ranking representatives of opposition parties could not carry their mobile phones past the blockades.
Representatives said water at the headquarters was cut off early Monday morning and there was no electricity when the demonstration was planned to take place at 10:00am.
One YSP representative said that over 1,000 people were expected to take part in the protest.
“People are killed everyday in the fighting, including men, women and children,” said Obad. “Too many people have died and thousands have fled their homes. The solution is in the government's hands. We urge the government to find a peaceful solution.”
Fighting in the Saada province, 240 km (150 miles) north of Sana'a near the border with Saudi Arabia, has been raging for nearly three months. The official death toll is in the hundreds, but some believe that the number of people killed, especially soldiers, is actually in the thousands. Many families have had to flee their homes in the areas where fighting has been taking place.
Al-Houthi is accused of inciting violence and terrorism against Western interests, especially American, in Yemen.
“The government is responsible for the fighting and there are many options to choose from to solve the problem,” said Abdul Malik Al-Makhlafi, Head of the Nasri party. “Unfortunately, it has only tried to use only one solution, which is fighting, and that hasn't worked. I think that the government might listen to opposition parties, but it is now late in the struggle that has already cost many lives.”
Analysts have expressed concern that on top of the unexpectedly large death toll, other extremists may emerge after seeing Al-Houthi's supporters holding out.
Others fear that fighting might spread as intense clashes continue in the north.
“The issue is no longer just the fight with Al-Houthi. The risk is that fighting could spread into other governorates if it isn't stopped soon,” said Obad.
Representatives that gathered at YSP's headquarters also expressed concern over the arrest last Sunday of Abdel Karim Khiwani, Editor in Chief of Al-Shoura daily, hours after he was sentenced in court to one year in prison. He was accused of courting Al-Houthi, and the newspaper was closed for six months. Khiwani's conviction and sentence is considered as the first action taken against a journalist in Yemen since the country was unified in 1990. Last June, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he would change the publication law and eliminate the imprisonment of journalists.
“This is a violation of freedom in Yemen and a violation of our constitution,” said Mohammed Al-Muttawakil, Assistant Secretary General of Yemen's Popular Forces Union party. “It is authority over the judicial system, authorities controlling the courts.”
The Yemeni Journalists Association began a sit-in at its headquarters in Sana'a last Monday, calling for Khiwani's release. A statement from the association said that “the strange and unjust ruling sabotaged all claims by the regime that it is based on democracy, freedom of the press, and respect for human rights.”