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Yemeni Government Responds To Protestors


Let's get an update, now, on protests in the Middle East. In Yemen, there are reports that the government has responded with force against anti-government protestors outside the capital. Yemeni warplanes bombed the coastal city of Zinjibar, which was captured, over the weekend, by Islamist militants. And in Yemen's main industrial city, Taiz, Soldiers reportedly opened fire on a demonstration and used bulldozers to run down protesters killing more than a dozen. We reached reporter, Tom Finn, who writes for the Guardian newspaper. He's in the capital, Sanaa. And what more can you tell us about today's developments?

Mr. TOM FINN (Reporter, Guardian): Well, the government's currently grappling on two fronts. On the one hand, it's launched a very brutal attack on a group of around 10,000 protesters in the southern city of Taiz. Now, they've been camped out in tents in a main square in the center of that city for the last four months. And about 3 o'clock this morning the army moved in with bulldozers and started setting fire to tents and basically clearing all the protesters out of this area. So they clearly decided that they didn't want the protests to carry on any longer. So we've kind of got this brutal crackdown going on in an urban area, in Taiz, the second biggest city in Yemen. And in the coastal city of Zinjibar, on the southern coast of Yemen, they're trying desperately to retrieve the city, which is basically, now, overrun by about three or four hundred Islamic militants who took over the city on Friday and have since, basically, been ruling it.

I've spoken to a couple of residents there, and they said that this group, while the government has called them al-Qaida, are actually a local, sort of, Islamic faction, who have their own grievances with the government but are not part of al-Qaida. Anyway, the government is now on a campaign to try and wrest control back from this group. And as you said, they've been bombing and shelling the city, as well as launching attacks from helicopters. So, what we're witnessing in Yemen is a kind of, you know, steady deterioration of the situation wide spread in cities across the country.

MONTAGNE: And remind us, because I think it's sometimes hard to keep track of these protests in a place like Yemen, what are they seeking?

Mr. FINN: Well, the protesters have an incredibly varied set of demands. As I said, you've kind of got this urbanized, youthful protest movement. Their demands are essentially they're asking for pluralist democracy. They're asking for an end to corruption. They want to see fair open and fair elections. And they also, you know, are campaigning for free speech you know, just basic fundamentals of a democratic rights. But on the same hand, you've got lots of other people who have long-held grievances of the government. And their main concerns are basically economic. You know, Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and a lot of people, now, are turning against the government, simply because they're running out of water.

The economy is, you know, entering a death spiral in Yemen. The prices of gas and water, and basic commodities have skyrocketed in the last few weeks. So that's, now, part of this protest movement. Essentially, all these widespread grievances are all being directed at president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. But as I said before, you know, a varied group of people with a varied bunch of demands.

MONTAGNE: Tom Finn is a freelance journalist, speaking to us from Yemen's capital, Sanaa. Thank you very much.

Mr. FINN: Good to talk to you, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.