Four dead after Yemen police fire on protesters

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Police forces in Yemen opened fire on protesters with gunfire, tear gas and water cannons Saturday morning, killing four people in two separate events.

The incidents began overnight, after the largest protests yet on Friday drew some 100,000 people. Before dawn, security troops attacked protesters in the capitol city of Sana'a; several hours earlier they had surrounded a central square where protestors were located. At around five in the morning local time, security forces began firing on the protesters, using first water cannons, and shortly thereafter tear gas and live ammunition. Witnesses said the attack began shortly after morning prayers.

Three people were killed in Sana'a, while a teenage boy was also killed in Mukalla. The scene in Sana'a was described by one protester as "total mayhem [...] a real battlefield."

In response to the deaths, the US embassy in Sana'a issued a report saying that the Yemeni government should investigate the events, and denied claims that the US government "has somehow condoned the use of violence by any side." US counterterrorism official John O. Brennan said that both the opposition and government "should respond constructively to President Saleh's call to engage in a serious dialogue to end the current impasse."

Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh had previously said the government would not use violence against protesters, and according to O'Brennan had "reiterated his hope that the opposition will engage immediately in a dialogue with the government as well as his public assurance not to use violence against peaceful demonstrators" in the wake of the deaths on Saturday.