Yemen protests continue as security deteriorates

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SANAA – Yemeni protesters demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Tuesday they would insist he leave power soon, blaming him for violence that has raised US fears of chaos that could benefit militants.
Explosions at an arms factory on Monday killed more than 100 people in a southern town where Islamists seemed to have driven out government forces, a reminder of instability that Saleh’s Western allies fear in the poorest Arab state.
Al Arabiya TV said the death toll could rise to around 150. The main coalition of opposition groups said Saleh was to blame for the presence of militant groups including al Qaeda in Abyan province, where the blast took place.
“We condemn this ugly crime and accuse the president and his people of involvement with al Qaeda and armed groups to whom handed over government institutions in Abyan. The chaos was planned in advance,” it said in a statement.
“Saleh’s continuation in power is a danger to Yemen, its people and international interests,” the group added. Abyan residents said in recent days that security forces had deserted the town of Jaar, scene of the blast. The governors of Jawf and Saada provinces in the north have also left, perhaps fearing confrontations with tribes opposed to the president.
In central Yemen, the governor of Maarib was stabbed after trying to disperse a protest earlier this month. Saleh, who has been alternately conciliatory and defiant, has vowed in public to make no more concessions to opponents demanding he step down after 32 years of authoritarian rule.
A perennial survivor of civil wars and militancy, he has said Yemen could slide into armed conflict and fragment along regional and tribal lines if he leaves office immediately. But protesters who have been camped out around Sanaa University since early February also said they found the withdrawal of security and officials in some areas suspicious and accused Saleh of fomenting strife to political reasons.
“Saleh wants to scare us and the world with chaos, which he has started causing in some areas,” said Ali Abdelghani, 31, a civil servant among thousands of protesters in Sanaa. “But we are capable of exposing this game. There are popular committees in all provinces to bring security as the president has removed security in some places for chaos to spread.”
Dozens of policemen and soldiers from different units joined the protests on Tuesday, milling around and chanting slogans such as “The people want the fall of the regime” and “The police and army are partners in providing daily needs”. “We are optimistic about the success of our revolution. It is just a question of time,” said Marwan Hussein, 18, a student.
Washington and neighbouring US ally Saudi Arabia have long seen Saleh as a strongman to keep al Qaeda from extending its foothold in a country many see as close to disintegration.