Wide-scale protests in southern Yemen

Thousands took to the streets of southern Yemen yesterday in protests timed to coincide with a meeting of the country’s international donors.

Demonstrations were reported in the main towns of four provinces – Dhali, Lahij, Abyan and Hadramawt – but there seem to have been only minor outbreaks of violence. Three civilians were shot and wounded in Abyan, and police used tear gas and fired into the air in Mukalla (Hadramawt province).

The official news agency initially said a state of emergency had been declared in Dhali, though this was later denied. Some reports spoke of a curfew; if so, it was widely ignored but security forces did stop vehicles entering Dhali’ city.

As usual, demonstrators waved flags of the old southern state. AFP also mentions the presence of Saudi flags – which would be unusual if true.

The exiled former vice-president, Ali Salim al-Baidh, had called for "two days of southern anger" to coincide with the donors’ meeting in Saudi Arabia. He said:

"I call on you over the next two days to send a message to our Arab brothers and to the representatives of the international community gathered in Riyadh underlining your rejection of the occupation and your commitment to self-determination.

"Our only weapon is our determination to recover our rights whatever the cost … We will succeed in regaining our independence."

Al-Baid led the south into union with the north in 1990, but later had second thoughts. The southern army, which had not been disbanded, fought a brief and unsuccessful war of secession in 1994.

Yesterday, former jihadist Tariq al-Fadhli – who regards himself as leader of the southern movement – urged a crowd in Zinjibar "to continue your struggle until the south is freed from Yemeni occupation".

An interview with Fadhli was published in the New York Times on Saturday. Among other things, he talks in the interview about his friendship with Osama Bin Laden and his recenthoisting and saluting of an American flag at his home in Abyan.

Another New York Times article looks at the background of the southern protests. Afra Khaled Hariri, a lawyer who has represented arrested members of the movement, is quoted as saying the separatists are deep divided – a mixture of socialists and Islamists with wildly different goals and unresolved disputes.

“There is no clear leadership, everyone wants to be the boss,” she says. “If the movement succeeds in making a separate state, I expect disaster because of our bloody past.” 

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 February 2010.