Yemen: Violence continues despite Saleh's deal to leave


Less than 24 hours after the embattled Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a deal to leave power, at least five demonstrators were killed and a dozen wounded yesterday when gunmen opened fire on a protest in the country's capital of Sanaa.

Witnesses said that armed men wearing civilian clothes shot at protesters as they passed through the centre of the city. The protests were indicative of deep divisions within Yemen's anti-government movement at the so-called GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) initiative, which grants Mr Saleh immunity from prosecution in exchange for his agreement to transfer power to his deputy.

Many Yemenis have hailed the deal as a step in the right direction. However, others have decried it as unacceptable, a position only hardened by yesterday's violence. In the field hospital at Sanaa's Change Square, where thousands have camped out for months to call for Saleh to step down, family members of those killed and wounded condemned the deal's immunity provision as an invitation for further violence from the remnants of Saleh's government.

"He signed and yet our blood continues to flow," said one mourner, wailing over the body of a slain relative. "Our sons have been martyred for the GCC initiative."

The power transfer deal has long been a point of contention between the different groups that make up Yemen's fractious anti-Saleh coalition. Tensions over the deal came to a head on Wednesday morning shortly before the outbreak of violence, as a number of independent youth activists, enraged by the formal opposition's support for the GCC deal, came to blows with activists affiliated with the Islamist Islah party. While the scuffles soon dissipated, simmering anger over the deal showed no sign of dying down and protesters in Change Square show no sign of abandoning their sit-in.

"Of course we plan to stay – the GCC deal means nothing," said Osama Shamsan, a youth activist in Sanaa. "Whether or not Saleh has stepped down from power, the rest of the regime remains."