Yemen in state of emergency after protest massacre

Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:13pm GMT

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Gunmen on rooftops shot dead up to 42 protesters at an anti-government rally in Sanaa after Muslim prayers on Friday, enraging the opposition and prompting President Ali Abdullah Saleh to declare a state of emergency.

Medical sources and witnesses told Reuters that Yemeni security forces and plainclothes snipers, who protesters said were government security men, had opened fire on the crowds. The Interior Ministry put the death toll at 25, but doctors said 42 people had died and at least 300 were injured.

Saleh, struggling to maintain his 32-year grip on power in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, said the deaths had occurred in clashes between demonstrators and other citizens at a protest encampment at Sanaa University.

"I express my extreme sorrow for what happened today after Friday prayers in the university district," Saleh told a news conference in Sanaa, blaming gunmen among the protesters for the violence.

"The police were not present and did not open fire," he said. "It is clear there are armed elements inside these tents and they are the ones who opened fire."

He declared a 30-day state of emergency that gives wider powers to security forces and bars citizens from bearing arms in public. A curfew was being discussed.

Yemen, home to an active al Qaeda wing, is the second country in the region to announce emergency rule this week, after Bahrain's introduction of martial law on Tuesday, which was followed by a major crackdown on protesters.

It was not clear if Saleh had the military power to enforce such an order, with Yemen deeply divided and racked by weeks of civil disturbance in which over 70 people have been killed.   Continued...

<p>Anti-government protesters carry an injured fellow protester in Sanaa March 18, 2011. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah</p>
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