Tens of thousands of Yemenis demonstrate in Sanaa

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Sanna, Feb 3 (AFP) Tens of thousands of protesterstoday massed at Sanaa University for a "day of rage" againstAli Abdullah Saleh''s rule, while a similar number of loyalistsflooded a central square in support of the embattled Yemenipresident, AFP correspondents said.

The protest, the biggest staged against Saleh in pastweeks, came despite the president announcing yesterday that hewould not seek another term and that he had postponedcontroversial April elections -- two key opposition demands.

Opposition leaders, who have been calling protestersonto the streets in a bid to force Saleh into making reforms,had said they would push on with today''s planned "day of rage"but that they would also study his latest announcements.

Their plans were affected when armed supporters ofSaleh''s General People''s Congress took over Al-Tahrir Square,the planned protest venue, last night, setting up tents andcarrying portraits of the president.

Protest organisers from early today then drove throughthe streets blaring out over megaphones that the venue hadbeen changed to Sanaa university, about two kilometres fromthe square.

They blamed the change on the fact that "the men ofthe ruling party and their armed elements are holdingAl-Tahrir."

The switch in venue did little to dampen theenthusiasm of protesters, who flocked to the university wherethey were joined by leaders of the Common Forum, an allianceof five parliamentary opposition parties including theIslamist Al-Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party.

Protesters held banners reading, "The people demand achange" of regime, and "No to a hereditary regime, no to anextension of mandate." Saleh pledged he would not seek eitheryesterday.

Protesters expressed solidarity with Egyptiandemonstrators who were today staging a 10th day ofincreasingly bloody protests against the regime of PresidentHosni Mubarak.

"May God help the Egyptian people against the tyrantHosni Mubarak," the protesters chorused, while police stood ata distance.

At Al-Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of loyalists --about the same sized crowd as the protesters -- pledged theirsupport for Saleh and carried banners reading, "We are withAli Abdullah Saleh. We are with Yemen," "The opposition wantsto destroy Yemen" and "No to destruction, no to sedition."

Facing demands for him to quit, Saleh yesterdayannounced that he would not seek another term as president,and said he will freeze plans to change the constitution thatwould have enabled him to remain president for life. (AFP)

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