Masses on the move in Yemen

Back in January I wrote about a demonstration at Sana'a University. It was a fairly small affair involving some 2,500 people (pictures here) but it was also, as far as I am aware, the first demonstration in the Yemeni capital aimed primarily at persuading President Salih to step down.

That, as it turned out, was just three days before the January 25protests in Cairo that triggered the Egyptian revolution.

Fast-forward six weeks, and look at the scene in Sana'a yesterday. The video above shows streets jam-packed with demonstrators, and the scale of it is extraordinary.

I'm still unsure what, exactly, it will take to make Salih abandon his presidential palace but after this I really can't see him surviving until the end of his term in September 2013.

The British Foreign Office yesterday amended its travel adviceregarding Yemen. It now says: 

We advise against all travel to the whole of Yemen and we recommend that British nationals without a pressing need to remain leave using commercial means.

There's only one step up from this – which is to organise an evacuation of British citizens by non-commercial means. I can't recall such a tough warning in the past, except perhaps during the 1994 north-south war. The usual formula when trouble occurs in Yemen is to advise against "all but essential travel" or to apply warnings in relation to certain parts of the country. 

The Foreign Office does tend to err on the side of caution in these matters but it suggests to me that the British Embassy in Sana'a thinks there is a strong possibility of Salih losing his grip in the very near future.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 March 2011