Yemen clashes over immunity plan for president turn deadly

April 27, 2011

A violent clash in Yemen’s capital left at least 10 anti-government protesters dead and scores injured after a crowd tried unsuccessfully to take control of the state-run television station, according to protesters and volunteer doctors.

The violence was a sign of growing unrest despite a tentative deal between the government and an opposition coalition that calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down within 30 days and grants Saleh and his family immunity from criminal prosecution.

The demonstrators who tried to seize control of the television station in Sanaa oppose that handover plan and have demanded instead that Saleh hand over power immediately and face trial for abuse of power. They were attacked by pro-government forces stationed on rooftops who fired AK-47 assault rifles down on the crowd.

Fighting raged for more than an hour as protesters used Molotov cocktails to set fire to cars and flung rocks into a stadium used by the pro-government forces. Ambulances riddled with bullet holes ferried the wounded from the fighting to a field hospital in a mosque next to a protesters’ camp.

“We were being shot by thugs from all directions even though our ambulance is clearly marked,” said Mustafa Abu Hadi, an an emergency medical technician.

The plan for Saleh to peacefully leave power was brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a diplomatic grouping that includes Yemen’s closest Arab neighbors. It has been approved by a coalition of Saleh’s political opponents that includes Islamists, Cold War-era socialists and Nasserites.

But the opposition groups have not succeeded in bridging a divide with youthful protesters who are hoping to assert more political power.

“We are willing to die, and have died, for our political freedom,” said Hamza al-Shargabi, a doctor and activist, expressing his contempt for the opposition coalition.

The political opposition and ruling General People’s Congress party will meet in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Sunday to “discuss the procedures required to approve the Gulf’s initiative,” according to the state-run news agency Saba.

In the Red Sea harbor city of Hodeida earlier Wednesday, tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators shut down ports and shipping facilities as part of a civil disobedience campaign to voice their demands that Saleh stand trial for his crimes and relinquish power immediately.

Boone is a special correspondent.

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