Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Breaking News: Women and children targeted by government forces in Yemen

Yemeni government forces have killed 24 children in their crack down on protesters since “Bloody Friday” on March 18, according to UNICEF

Two minors were killed during the massacre in Sana’a several weeks ago, and the growing unrest has led to further child casualties.

Yemenis have petitioned international organizations, including UNICEF, to put pressure on the Saleh government to cease using violence against children.

Women bringing a similar petition to the UN Development Program headquarters in Sana’a were attacked by government forces, Maha*, a SAVE contact in Sana’a, said. Women initiated the petition to condemn the deaths of protesters in the southern city of Taiz, and were bringing it to the UNDP, when government forces stopped their cars and assaulted drivers and passengers.

Protests bring about social change and unity

Women continue to be very active in the protests in Yemen, and their treatment in Change Square in Sana’a is symbolic of a new social atmosphere in Yemen.

“Women are treated with grace and respect in the square... Usually in Yemen, women get harassed all the time, but in Change Square nobody touches me," said Afrah Nasser on her blog.

Tawakkol Karman, a leading female activist, stated in an article in The Guardian that the protests have brought all sections of Yemeni society together like never before. Most Yemenis agree that the protest have provided them with a common cause which overshadows their differences.

“Protesters come from all segments of Yemeni society, united by one demand - to oust Saleh,” writes Nasser. “Contrary to what the president has been predicting about a civil war looming on the horizon in the event of his resignation, representatives of different tribes are protesting together at Change Square, acting in complete harmony. In fact, there have even been reports of tribes making peace and resolving long-running grudges as a result of this new atmosphere of unity.”

However, activists caution that these newly-founded bonds may break apart, as differences are reasserted and fights for power commence, should the protests succeed in toppling Saleh's regime. “We need to give people a new cause, give them ownership of the revolution, and involve youth in plans for the future,” said Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor of The Yemen Times. “This is the time for a stronger civil society and media to develop. It is a turning point. If we don’t seize this chance, we will regret it.”

Gulf Cooperation Council rejected by opposition parties
Today the opposition parties announced their refusal to take part in the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to mediate between the government and protesters. The initiative was viewed with suspicion by some, as Saudi Arabia, a leader of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is traditionally a supporter of President Saleh. Young people in Change Square asked the opposition parties not to accept the proposal, as they are discontent with any deal that would grant Saleh immunity from conviction for the alleged corruption and crimes committed during his 32-year presidency. They also worry that intervention by Saudi Arabia could mean the replacement of Saleh with a similar regime.

“Yemenis and Saudis love each other as neighbours,” Maha said. “But many people do not want intervention. They are afraid that the Saudis will find someone else who will just follow their line.”

Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor of Yemen Times, expressed hope for the initiative despite the early failures. “Saudi Arabia is our big brother. Although these talks got off to a rocky start, they could still be successful, depending on how strongly other countries, like the USA, push.”

Intervention in Yemeni politics is a touchy subject, and Qatar is today coming under fire from Yemeni pro-government protesters. Demonstrators outside the Qatar embassy in Sana’a are condemning Qatar’s loud and uncompromising calls for Saleh’s exit.

Neglected southern provinces should provide next president and a Yemeni first lady, some say

With talks halted, violence continues in various cities of Yemen. In Sana’a yesterday, one protester was killed and one was critically injured, during huge protests against violence in Taiz, around 200 kilometers south of Sana’a. Taiz continues to experience severe unrest, with several killed on Friday.

Taiz suffers from underdevelopment due to insufficient investment by the central government. There is mass youth unemployment and a poor infrastructure. Nurses in the town complain of a lack of medical supplies to treat wounded protesters. The poor economic and social structures fan the fire of revolution in Taiz.

In fact, there has been some talk that a new president should be from the south of Yemen. Since unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, the Southern provinces have been ruled over by a Northern president. Maha suggested that it might be good for Yemen to have a more open-minded, well-educated president from the South. Women are also hoping that Yemen may for the first time have a visible First Lady; President Saleh has never presented any of his female relatives to the public. “It would be great for Yemen to have a First Lady,” said Maha. “It would have a good impact on all our work, and we would hopefully have a role model for Yemeni women, and someone to turn a greater focus on women’s issues.”

*Name has been changed

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