Hassan Baoum, a prominent member of Yemen’s Southern Movement, was allegedly taken from a hospital by security forces on February 20th and on Monday 21st February President Saleh issued a statement declaring that the protesters should make themselves heard through the ballot box and “not through chaos”. Refering to the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, he said “those people are copying others and the more concessions we provide, the more demands they ask for,” saying that the end of his own regime was an unacceptable demand.
One protester has been reportedly shot dead during demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Human Rights Watch have said. Sana’a University has become a focal point for around 1,000 activists, who were visited by the President himself on Saturday.
Although the constitution of Yemen is a democratic bicameral Presidential republic and elections have been held recently, those elections were the subject of some intimidation and one party has an absolute majority in the country. President Saleh has ruled Yemen since it was formed and ruled North Yemen from 1978.
The country has been de-stabilised by the formerly pro-Saddam Hussein policies of President Saleh, a secessionist movement in the South and competition for power from Houthi Shi’ite rebels. The Houthi’s have laid claim to the Sadaa region which borders Saudi Arabia. Houthi fighters there belong to the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam. The Yemen government is afraid that they wish to restore the Zaydi imamate which ruled Yemen for around a thousand years, whereas the Houthis point to economic underdevelopment following the Yemen government’s favour for Wahhabis who helped them fight against separatists in the South during 1994.
Other sympathetic Shia tribes across the border in Saudi Arabia support the Houthis and the fighting is potentially destablising when taken into consideration along with demonstrations in the capital, a separatist movement in the South and alleged Al-Qaeda involvement from across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia.