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Yemeni government supporters attack protesters, injuring hundreds

By Hakim Almasmari,

SANAA, Yemen — Supporters of the Yemeni government attacked protesters in the western port city of Hodeida on Wednesday, injuring more than 300 people, witnesses said.

Authorities did not intervene to stop the attack, according to the witnesses. “If security is not there to protect us, then they should leave,” said Ali Jaber, an anti-government protester.

Health officials said security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition, mostly at the protesters. “The injuries include people who inhaled nerve gas, were shot by live bullets or were beaten with sticks and rocks,” said Rami Shatran, a medical committee representative in Hodeida.

Demonstrations have been held daily across Yemen for the past month by protesters demanding the immediate ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Hodeida has been the scene of some of the most violent confrontations. In Wednesday’s clash, both sides used rocks, wooden batons and knives, witnesses said.

The violence erupted after thousands of Saleh loyalists turned out to voice support for the president’s proposal to transfer power to a parliamentary system by 2013 rather than stepping down sooner in favor of a weak opposition.

“We want Saleh to rule us,” said Moneef Salama, a pro- government youth activist. “We will not accept the opposition to take control of the government while they are only a minority.”

According to witnesses, the Saleh supporters later attacked an anti-government rally and prevented the injured from receiving treatment by breaking ambulance windows and blocking access to hospitals.

“They attacked us and destroyed our medical facilities,” said Abdul Rahman Saber, an anti-government activist who was injured in the head.

The opposition condemned the use of force against the protesters in Hodeida, saying that the government must be held accountable for the violence.

Elsewhere, young people continued their protests in 14 of Yemen’s 21 provinces, with the largest turnouts in Taiz and in Sanaa, the capital. In Mareb province, tribes backing the protesters forced security authorities to evacuate, blaming them for attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

“We will be responsible for Mareb’s safety from today on,” said a leader of the Gadaan tribe.

Also Wednesday, hundreds of members of the Kholan tribe, including prominent leaders, joined protesters in Sanaa and vowed to protect them against attack. Kholan, once a reliable tribal ally of Saleh’s, now divides its loyalty between Saleh and the opposition forces.

“We are here to prove to everyone that Kholan is with the youth of change and against the government that attacks its people,” said Khaled al-Khader, a senior Kholan leader.

Almasmari is a special correspondent.

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