Taiz experiences massive sit-in, citizens demand living improvements [Archives:2007/1077/Front Page]

August 16 2007

By:Emad Al-Saqqaf
TAIZ, August 15 ) More than 10,000 citizens held a sit-in in front of the governorate building in Taiz in response to an invitation from the Joint Meeting Parties. Citizens protested many problems plaguing the governorate including price hikes of electricity, water, gas and cement, unemployment, poverty and corruption.

The protestors lifted banners that stated, “Water is evaporation and fire bills,” “Stop fatal price hikes,” “Taiz is the city of poverty, unemployment and drought” and “Bread and water are our demands.” One of the protesters threw an empty plastic bag formerly containing wheat at the mayor's face while he spoke with Al-Jazeerah channel. The organizing committee along with the governor's heightened security contained the situation before it developed into anything serious.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abdur-Rahman Al-Azraqi, first secretary of the Yemeni Socialist Party, stated, “This sit-in came as a result of price hikes and unprecedented deterioration of citizens' living standards.”

He went on to say that Taiz governorate suffers from many crises such as electricity and water price hikes, deterioration of health conditions as well as the spread of unemployment among youth and poverty. Taiz has a population of 3.5 million. The governmental institutions suffer from corruption.

Al-Azraqi considered the meeting held by the governor and opposition parties last Monday as a news copout that does not convince even children. He also said that promises pledged by the governor have been raised before while crises are growing steadily.

Ahmed Al-Maqrami, head of the Islah party media committee in Taiz, pointed out that the government should take the demands of the citizens into consideration regardless their political affiliations. The government must treat all citizens equally without showing preferential treatment to those affiliated with the General Peoples Congress.

Al-Maqrami added that the sit-in is a peaceful expression, which will be followed by other sit-ins if the government does not meet citizen demands related to human rights such as equal access to water and electricity, alleviating poverty and fighting unemployment as well as price hikes. He advised the government to take heed to the Taiz sit-in to prevent similar sit-ins from occurring in other governorates.

Rashad Saif, representative of Al-Wahdawi party, affirmed that the JMP did not seek to incite conflict with the authority by carrying out this sit-in. He went on to say, “The citizens are fed-up with the tedious and monotonous pledges. It is time now for the government to hear the citizens' voice who suffer from living crises.” The most important issue that Taiz suffers from is water accessibility, he stated. The government could not find a solution for this problem, despite massive amounts of water being wasted. The unreasonable price hikes have driven citizens crazy while the government remains unresponsive. This could lead to a human disaster in the country.

The governor, Ahmed Al-Hajri, invited chairmen of the JMP, members of Parliament, media and local officials to an open dialogue in which he delivered a seemingly cooperative speech, attempting to stop the sit-in by reviewing a number of provisions to resolve Taiz problems.

Al-Hajri went on to say that he will struggle to the last moment before handing over control of Taiz to another governor in the upcoming election, three to four months away. He expressed his wish that the local council will choose the right leader.

The meeting between the governor and the JMP emphasized the importance of privatizing the sea and air ports as the public sector has failed to administer them successfully. Al-Hajri pointed out that electricity teams assumed their duty in most of the governorate districts, aiming at installing electrical power in 80 percent of the governorate within three years.

Al-Hajri stated that success is dependent on unity. If there is a failure, the local authority will work diligently to correct itself. He also praised MPs for their commendable efforts at following up on projects in their districts, highlighting the actions of Islah MP Abdul Hameed. “Taiz is the governorate that brought up unification and the most beneficiaries of its services,” he maintained.

The governor declared, “The governorate has taken four measures to resolve the problem of water. They are represented by repairing and rehabilitation of the network so as to reduce the loss with 90 percent. The governorate has established many barriers to recharge the ground water basins. There are some studies on the possibility of desalinating water of Al-Hawjalah area. All these measures will be done through an investment project in hand of Saudi investors and Hail Sa'eed An'am.”

Al-Hajri urged citizens to be patient for one year only, pointing out what will be achieved in the exceptional plan of the next year.

Representatives of the opposition confirmed their solidarity with the sit-in. Sadiq Al-Ba'dani, from Islah party, along with Sultan Al-Samai, affiliated with the Yemeni Socialist Party, directed sharp criticism of current conditions in the governorate. Al-Ba'dani revealed that flights from the area airport have decreased from 1,500 to 150 between 1984 and 2004.