Price Hikes Spark Demonstrations [Archives:1998/25/Front Page]
It was an ominous Saturday morning, June 20th. There were several helicopter over-flights. Military forces manning street intersections were on alert. Armored cars were on patrol. They were watching the demonstrations. They did not intervene until the crowds got ugly. The soldiers shot in the air. They also fired tear gas, which had expired in April 1987.
Large crowds had converged on Tahrir Square in Sanaa. They came from Bab Al-Yemen, Al-Safia, Hayel, Shoub, Hadda Road, and from all over town. The total was in the thousands.
The popular outburst was the result of a 40% increase in the price of gas (petrol) – from YR 500 to YR 700 per gallon. That rise brought about an overnight across-the-board increase in the price level of about 20%. The price of some products rose by nearly 100%. The frustration and anger of the people resulted in the demonstrations.
Observers do not see an escalation in the level of unrest. But political problems will persist unless conditions improve.
“That will be 15 riyals,” said the microbus (dabbab) driver.
“What?! Be serious,” replied the passenger.
“I’m serious. This is the new government fare! They have increased petrol prices from 500 to 700 riyals for 20 liters! ”
“The new fare is only 12 riyals.”
“I don’t have 3 riyals change to give.”
One word led to another, and they were at each other’s throats brandishing their janbias in the air. The driver, Abdullah Al-Bahlouli and the passenger, Nasser Al-Homaiqani were both hospitalized.
All hell broke loose in Sanaa on Saturday morning.
People were demonstrating in downtown Sanaa; while, police and security violently broke up the gatherings. Dabbab drivers went on strike, denying the public affordable transportation. Filled with anger and frustration because of economic hardships, the passengers joined the drivers in their protest.
Demonstrations started in several parts of Sanaa, and slowly moved towards the heart of the city where parliament and other government offices are situated.
Unruly elements among the demonstrators resorted to throwing stones on government and even civilian cars. They also destroyed billboards and blocked roads with rocks and burning tyres. Security forces replied with tear gas and shots in the air. Even helicopter gunships were sent to monitor the situation developing on the ground.
Acting on instructions by the World Bank, Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Iryani’s new government partially lifted subsidies off basic foods and fuel commodities. This has led to price rises in almost everything, from fruits and vegetables to electricity and water rates. The most severely affected are public employees, those on fixed incomes, the unemployed and the disadvantaged in general.
The Ministry of Finance announced on Friday, 19th June a 15% wage increase for public and mixed sector employees and army personnel. However, this percentage is calculated according to the basic wage, without the monthly benefits and other bonuses. The increase is also subject to a 16% tax.
An average doctor, engineer, or other professional gets a basic salary of about YR 5000 a month, i.e., the wage increase announced by the government will be YR 750.
During and immediately following the demonstrations, security forces in Sanaa conducted a widespread clampdown on the ring leaders who led the agitation. The operation continued until dawn of Sunday, 21 June, resulting in the arrest of some 160 persons.
Stringent security measures were also taken to pre-ampt any further demonstrations and acts of protest. Starting at dawn, fully armed security personnel and armored vehicles were deployed at main road junctions to stem out any demonstrations before they even start.
In the governorate of Dhamar, on the other hand, civil unrest was far wider and fiercer than in Sanaa. Acts of vandalism and looting of private shops and public establishments took place. The confrontation between the police and the protesters was quite violent. Several civilians and policemen sustained severe injuries due to the showdown.
A large demonstration on Sunday morning in the Madhbah area of Sanaa was violently crushed by security personnel using truncheons and tear gas and by threateningly firing shots in the air. So far, the police seem to be in control of the situation.