Civilian unrest spreads to Yemen, shakes Mid-East region

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Sanaa (Yemen), Jan.28 (ANI): The civilian unrest that began in the North African republic of Tunisia, has now spread to Yemen, one of the Middle East's most impoverished countries, after engulfing Egypt.

According to the New York Times, in a span of just weeks, the Tunisian government has collapsed, the Egyptian government appears shaken and countries like Jordan and Yemen are bracing against demands of movements with divergent goals but similar means.

Protests led by young people entered a third day in Egypt, where Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel laureate who has become an outspoken opponent of President Hosni Mubarak, returned in hopes of galvanizing the campaign.

The Muslim Brotherhood, long Egypt's largest organized opposition, ended days of official inaction and said it would join the Friday protests, declaring "a day of rage for the Egyptian nation."

Dr. El Baradei called on President Mubarak to step down.

"He has served the country for 30 years, and it is about time for him to retire," he said.

In Yemen, organizers vowed to continue protests on Friday and for weeks to come until the 32-year-old American-backed government of Ali Abdullah Saleh either fell or consented to reforms.

At least visually, the scenes broadcast across the region from Yemen were reminiscent of the events in Egypt and the month of protests that brought down the government in Tunisia.

But as they climaxed by midday, they appeared to be carefully organized and mostly peaceful, save for some arrests.

Pink - be it in the form of headbands, sashes or banners - was the dominant color; organizers described it as the symbol of the day's protests.

The potential for strife in Yemen is difficult to overstate. The country is troubled by a rebellion in the north and a struggle for secession in the once independent, Marxist south.

In recent years, an affiliate of Al Qaeda has turned parts of the country, a rugged, often lawless region on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, into a refuge beyond the state's reach.

Added to the mix is a remarkably high proportion of armed citizens, some of whom treat Kalashnikovs as a fashion accessory.

"I fear Yemen is going to be ripped apart," said Mohammed Naji Allaw, coordinator of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedom, which was one of the protests' organizers.

Allaw added: "The situation in Yemen is a lot more dangerous than in any other Arab country. It would be foolish for the regime to ignore our demands."

The protests have sprung from political divisions that began building in the country last October, when a dialogue collapsed between the opposition and Saleh, a 64-year-old strongman who has ruled his fractured country for more than three decades and is a crucial ally of the United States in the fight against the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda.

Saleh's term is supposed to end in 2013, proposed amendments to the Constitution could allow him to remain in power for two additional terms of 10 years.

In a televised speech on Sunday night, Saleh, a wily politician with a firm grasp of the power of patronage, tried to defuse the opposition's demands.

He denied claims that his son would succeed him - as happened in Syria and, some fear, might occur in Egypt.

He said he would raise army salaries, a move seemingly intended to ensure soldiers' loyalty. Saleh has also cut income taxes in half and ordered price controls. (ANI)

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