Thousands rally in Yemen, joining Tunisia and Egypt in anti-government protests
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, key U.S. ally in war against Al-Qaida in Yemen, has ruled impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for more than 30 years.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Sanaa, Yemen on Thursday to demand a change of government, inspired by the unrest that has ousted Tunisia's leader and spread to Egypt this week.
At least four people have been killed in the clashes in Egypt since activists took to the streets on Tuesday in a bid to oust Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt's general prosecutor on Thursday charged 40 people with attempting to overthrow the regime, after a round of protests unprecedented during Mubarak's strong-handed 30-year rule.
Prominent reform campaigner Mohammed ElBaradei, who lives in Vienna, will return to Egypt on Thursday and is expected to take part in the mass demonstrations called for Friday.
In Yemen, protesters scattered across the city in the largest wave of anti-government protests Yemen has witnessed yet.
"The people want a change in president," shouted protesters who gathered at Sanaa University for one of the demonstrations.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key ally of the United States in its war against a resurgent Yemeni arm of Al-Qaida, has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for over 30 years.
At least 10,000 protesters gathered at Sanaa University and around 6,000 more elsewhere in Sanaa in protests organized by Yemen's opposition coalition, Reuters witnesses said. Police watched but no clashes were reported.
Protesters said they were demanding improvements in living conditions as well as political change. One banner read: "Enough playing around, enough corruption, look at the gap between poverty and wealth."
A competing pro-government protest organized by Yemen's ruling party in another district of Sanaa gathered a few hundred demonstrators, witnesses said.
At least 100 troops from Yemen's security forces spread across a square where many banks are located, though there were no protesters there, a Reuters witness said.
Yemen, in the shadow of the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is struggling with soaring unemployment and dwindling oil and water reserves. Almost half its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third suffer from chronic hunger.
"We are partners in this nation and we won't submit to exclusion. Look at Tunis and what it did. Yemen's people are stronger," protesters chanted at the university protest.
Saleh has tried to calm discontent, last week proposing constitutional amendments including presidential term limits with two terms of five or seven years. This week he also promised to raise the salary of all civil servants and military personal by at least 47 dollars a month.
Like the Yemenis and Tunisians, Egyptians complain about surging prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rulers who have relied on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet.
After decades in which Mubarak's rule has never been seriously challenged, Egypt's large, youthful population has grown increasingly restive and bolder in demanding change.
Egypt's population of some 80 million is growing by 2 percent a year. Two thirds of the population is under 30, and that age group accounts for 90 percent of the jobless. About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and a third is illiterate.
Tunisians have offered their own tips to their fellow Arabs. "May God be with you Egyptians," wrote one activist on Facebook, explaining how to deal with teargas or how best to evade arrest.