Security forces and government supporters opened fire on protesters in the Yemeni city of Taiz on Monday, witnesses said, while a doctor confirmed that four people were killed and scores injured after almost a month of stalled negotiations over how and when President Ali Abdullah Saleh would leave office.
Protesters said that a large march was headed toward the municipal education offices in the center of the city when it came under fire. A doctor at a field hospital said that 88 others were wounded by gunshots, 13 remaining in critical condition.
At least two other protesters were shot fatally over the weekend in Taiz, in the southwestern highlands, and one in the western port city Hodeidah, local doctors said. More than 130 protesters have been killed since the uprising began, according to Amnesty International.
As the toll for demonstrators has risen, so have fears that they would become violent themselves; Yemen’s civilian population is one of the most heavily armed in the world. But during the three months of unrest, they have remained largely peaceful. In a few recent cases, however, protesters reportedly threw incendiary devices at security forces, a sign that at least some have begun resorting to violence when under attack.
YouTube videos posted from Taiz on Monday show stores shuttered along long stretches of the road in the center of the city that turned into a battleground between security forces and protesters. Residents said they heard gunshots starting at 6 a.m. that endured into the afternoon.
Ali al-Mamari, a Taiz resident and a Parliament member who resigned from the ruling party over violence used against protesters, called the situation in Taiz “tragic and dangerous.” Al-Mamari said that Republican Guards — the division of the military commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed — were “still chasing young activists in the streets” and “shooting randomly at houses.”
The unrest in Taiz, home to Yemen’s largest demonstrations, is emblematic of a larger breakdown in the country as stability decreases the longer the political crisis drags on.
The lack of control of the central state before the political crisis was a major reason that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni affiliate of the international terrorist network, was able to set up a base in the unruly countryside. The current chaos is therefore of particular concern to the U.S.
U.S. officials said last week that a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last Thursday had failed to kill its target, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric who is a popular propagandist for jihadis around the world. Al-Awlaki is believed to be hiding out in the area of the strike, in the restive Shabwa province in Yemen’s southeast.
News of the strike was largely drowned out by the political crisis. More than two weeks ago, Saleh said he agreed to a plan for him to step down brokered by Persian Gulf countries. But he and the opposition have bickered over many details, including Saleh’s proper title and who from the large opposition coalition would be the signatories.