Yemen has rounded up opposition political leaders in response to several days of riots that caused extensive damage to government buildings and vehicles. Over the last 48 hours, the Yemeni military deployed dozens of tanks, armored vehicles and fighter jets into the southern Yemeni governorates.
Riots broke out March 29. After a large rally in the governorate of Dhalie, southern youths angry at being excluded from the security forces, despite government promises, blocked main streets with burning tires. They also set fire to two police stations and numerous military vehicles. They brought a donkey to the local headquarters of President Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress. The rioters claim they were excluded from service because of regional bias.
The issue of regional discrimination is at the root of the demonstrations that have swept southern Yemen since May 2007. The protests are led by former southern military officers punitively discharged after Yemen’s 1994 civil war. Demonstrators charge that most jobs in the south are awarded to northerners, and southerners do not have equal rights or opportunities. Protesters increasingly chant slogans calling for “the liberation of southern Yemen” from northern “occupation,” in spite of the Yemeni regime’s previous declaration that chanting regional slogans is tantamount to treason.
Since May, 19 protesters have been killed by security forces. Hundreds were arrested. The former head of the Endowments Ministry, Naser Al-Shaibani, issued a fatwa during Eid services in October 2007 that the southern military retirees are disbelievers and not Muslims anymore.
The Yemeni government closed southern newspapers, blocked news Web sites and Matoob, the Arabic blogging platform. Al-Jazeera and other Arabic satellite channels were prohibited from filming the protests. International and local correspondents were repeatedly detained by security forces. The home of the editor of the popular al-Ayyam newspaper was riddled with gunfire, resulting in one fatality. However, the protests remained largely peaceful until now.
Tanks are positioned in major cities throughout the south. Fighter jets are making frequent passes. Security and military squads raided homes and political parties’ premises in Aden, Dhalei, Radfan, Abyan, and Mukalah. Dozens of opposition political figures were arrested at their homes at dawn Monday. Witnesses said the men were pulled from their bedrooms and beaten. Most are now incommunicado at various military camps.
Among the arrested are leaders of the Retired Army Association, including Abdu Al-Maatri, and Hassan Baoum, who already had been arrested in September, held incommunicado and released in December. Also reportedly arrested is Ali Munasar, the head of the Yemeni Socialist Party in Aden. The government claimed the residents of Dhahlie demanded the security forces strike the demonstrators with an iron fist.