Yemen declares national emergency after dozens killed in protest crackdown
Yemeni President Saleh bars weapons possession by civilians after as many as 50 demonstrators demanding his ouster were killed by plainclothes security.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced a national state of emergency after at least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured when police opened fire Friday at hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in the Yemeni capital Sana'a.
Reports said at least 50 people were killed and 240 injured by government forces. Saleh expressed sorrow for the protester deaths, but claimed that no police forces were in the area at that time and that those who had fired weapons were civilians. Saleh also announced a ban on weapons possession by civilians.
Earlier, security men in civilian clothes on the rooftops of surrounding houses opened live fire on protesters, apparently shooting to kill by aiming at the head and chest, an eyewitness told the German Press Agency DPA.
They also used tear gas and water cannons hoping to disperse the protesters who were demonstrating to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he added.
Security men in civilian clothes also attacked protesters camping in the northern province of Dhamar and set ablaze a number of tents. Dozens were injured in the attack.
Yemeni Interior Minister Muttahar al-Masri said a curfew and other measures to prevent a further deterioration in the situation in Yemen were still being discussed.
Protesters have rejected proposals by Saleh that aim at appeasing demonstrators. His proposals include giving more power to parliament and amending the constitution in a way to meet the peoples' aspirations.
Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, has been ruling the country for 32 years. He recently announced he will not run for re-election in 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the protesters' deaths in Yemen and called for freedom of assembly to prevail.
"I strongly condemn the violence that has taken place in Yemen today and call on President Saleh to adhere to his public pledge to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully," Obama said in a statement.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the Yemeni president must end the violence immediately. "President Saleh must stand by his commitments to uphold the right to peaceful protest, as he announced on 10 March. I ask him to stop violence now," Ashton said in a statement.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the killing by Yemen's security forces. "The secretary general is deeply troubled by the continuing violence and instability in Yemen," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said. "He reiterates his call for utmost restraint and reminds the government of Yemen that it has an obligation to protect civilians."
Following in the wake of popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, anti-government protests and demonstrations began in Yemen on February 11. Up until Friday, more than 30 people were reported killed in government crackdowns on the demos.