Yemen President urges opposition for dialogue amid strained clashes

09:06, February 21, 2011      

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Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Sunday renewed his call for the opposition coalition to take part in a long-postponed national dialogue amid escalating protests demanding an end of his 33-year rule.

"We have frequently called them (opposition) to get back to the negotiation's table and we are ready to meet their demands if they were legitimate," he said in a speech to a gathering of his supporters in Sanaa, aired by the state television.

"As the president of the country, not only the president for the ruling party, General People's Congress, I'm ready to sponsor the national dialogue between them to save our homeland from unrest," he said.

The proposed national dialogue, which was based on a reconciliation agreement sealed in February 2009, has halted since last September.

"Sitting at the table of dialogue is much better than vandalism, cutting off roads or killing innocent people," he said.

Saleh expressed his regrets over the clashes between the security forces and the anti-government protesters in Aden during the past two days, accusing "outlaw elements of being behind the unrest that left six soldiers injured."

Saleh's speech came simultaneously with anti-regime rallies across the country for the ten consecutive days.

In Sanaa, nearly 2,000 protesters calling for ousting Saleh, mostly students, held a sit-in Sunday evening and erected tents at a place they name it "Changing square" in front of the main gate of Sanaa University.

"Police forces cut off all roads leading to Sanaa university this evening and allowing the anti-government protesters to set up their tents and continue their sit-in," a security official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

"No casualty occurred as riot police managed to force around 100 government backers wielding daggers and batons away from the anti-government protesters who kept calling for stepping down of President Saleh," according to another police official.

In southern province of Ibb, around 1,500 anti-government protesters gathered on Sunday for the first time in this province, calling for Saleh to leave, according to a local security official.

Earlier Sunday, one police officer was killed and other six policemen were wounded in clashes between police and anti- government protesters in the southern city port of Aden, according to police sources and eyewitnesses.

Six soldiers and several anti-government protesters were injured in the clashes that took place in Khour Maksar district, and a provincial security official told Xinhua earlier via the phone that dozens of anti-government protesters armed with rifles shot dead a police officer when he was standing near a police patrol car.

Yemeni authorities created numerous police checkpoints in road intersections and stationed security forces in all streets of Aden, according to eyewitnesses.

Late on Saturday, a 14-year-old protester named Ahmed Zaki was killed by random gunshot when riot police fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators rallying at Al- Hashmi square in Shaikh Othman town in Aden, according to his family.

Besides protests in Sanaa, Aden and Taiz, escalating anti-Saleh protests expanded Sunday to rattle provinces of Al-Hodayda, Lahj and Ibb. No further clashes were reported.

Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years, promised earlier this month he would not seek re-election or pass power to his son, vowing to achieve more political and economic reforms.

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