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Saleh partisans take over Yemen protest site


Sanaa, Feb 3 (AFP) Hundreds of pro-regime partisanstook over Sanaa''s main square today, forcing the opposition tochange the site of its protests on a "day of rage" against theYemeni president''s rule.

Opposition supporters drove around the Yemenicapital announcing with megaphones that the protests would nowbe held at Sanaa University, about two kms from Al-Tahrirsquare where the demonstration had been planned.

They said the venue change was because "the men of theruling party and their armed elements are holding Al-Tahrir."

Dozens of armed men from President Ali AbdullahSaleh''s General People''s Congress were seen setting up tentsand erecting portraits of the president in Al-Tahrir Squareyesterday.

Police were today trying to filter the influx ofpeople into the square, some of whom carried banners reading,"We are with Ali Abdullah Saleh. We are with Yemen," and "Theopposition wants to destroy Yemen."

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.

He also said he was opposed to hereditary rule, aresponse to suspicion among critics that was grooming hiseldest son Ahmed Saleh, who commands an elite unit of theYemeni army, to succeed him as president.

In what appeared to be yet another bid to stave offthe kind of mass anti-regime protests that have swept Tunisiaand Egypt and which have rippled throughout the Arab world,Saleh also announced he would postpone controversial electionsdue in April.

Unimpressed, opposition groups said they would presson with their "day of rage."

"Thursday''s demonstration will continue as scheduled,"said Mohammed Kahtan of the Islamist Al-Islah (Reform) party.

Mohammed al-Sabri of the Common Forum oppositionalliance said Saleh''s call to halt protests was"unacceptable." However, he said the group would "discuss thepresident''s announcement."

There have been clashes during previous protestsagainst Saleh, including on January 29, when dozens ofactivists calling for his ouster fought with regime supportersin Sanaa. Plain-clothes police also attacked demonstrators.

Facing growing protests since last month''s downfall ofTunisia''s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the wave ofanti-regime protests in Egypt, Saleh urged the government totake urgent measures against unemployment. (AFP)

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