Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011

Yemeni Protesters Under Heavy Fire

SANA, Yemen — Security forces and government supporters opened fire on demonstrators on Friday as the largest protest so far in Yemen came under violent and sustained attack in the center of the capital, Sana. At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured, according to a doctor at a makeshift hospital near the protest.
A heavy cloud of black smoke rose over a downtown commercial district at the south end of the protest, which swelled to tens of thousands of people and stretched for a mile from its center at Sana University.
Government supporters in plain clothes fired down on the demonstration from rooftops and windows almost immediately after the protesters rose from their noon prayers, conducted en masse in the street on Friday.
The shooting dwarfed the level of violence in previous clashes between supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and protesters who have called for his ouster in weeks of large protests in cities around Yemen. But the crowd of mostly tribal men from the outskirts of the capital appeared to stand firm in the face of the chaotic attack.
A man walked through the crowd with a microphone yelling, “Peaceful, peaceful! Don’t be afraid of the bullets!”
At the same time, a large number of riot police officers massed at the south end of the protest, opening fire with guns and a water cannons in an effort to keep demonstrators from moving further into the center of the capital.
Scores of injured men were carried in bloody blankets through the crowd to a mosque transformed into a makeshift hospital, the dead and wounded lying on the floor. Many of the wounded appeared to have been caused by rocks as well as bullets.
While it could not immediately be determined whether the bullets fired were live rounds or rubber bullets, at least one protester was killed when he was shot in the head at close range.
Some of the men in the protest raided buildings where gunmen had been seen, peeking out of windows and flashing peace signs to indicate to the crowd below that they were not, themselves, snipers. In one raid at a far end of the protest, a man said to be a sniper was caught and beaten by angry demonstrators.
As the violence escalated, many in central Sana took cover. “Today is the worst day; this is a new Qaddafi,” said Khalil al-Zekry, who hunkered down in his video shop along the protest route.
Laura Kasinof reported from Sana, Yemen, and J. David Goodman from New York.