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Protests Sweep Southern Yemen

  • Heather Murdock

As donor countries met today in Saudi Arabia to decide how best to spend international aid recently pledged to Yemen, a second day of protests swept the southern half of the country. The protesters are calling for secession from the Yemeni state, and for support from donor countries.

As international donors were meeting in Riyadh this weekend to decide how to spend the nearly $6-billion recently pledged to Yemen for development and counter-terrorism, protesters staged rallies in every province of southern Yemen, according to separatist leaders. The protests are intended to convince donors not to sink international aid into what they call a corrupt and inefficient regime.

Four kinds of flags now appear at southern separatist rallies in Yemen; the flag of the former Democratic Republic of Yemen, an independent state until 1990, and a green flag that symbolizes the call for secession. In the background, some separatists also wave British and American flags, hoping to gather support from the West.

One man, like many separatists, would not give his name for fear of arrest. "Solution is by the help of the free people all over the world. They must help, they have to help to have a very good solution. I think we are as humanitarian, we have to help each other," he said.

He says the Southern Movement's only strategy is peaceful protest.

The Yemeni government says the movement is a threat to national security. Separatists want the government to give up control of its southern territories, which hold most of the country's oil reserves.

During the protests, the Yemeni government says 21 people were arrested and a bomb went off in a market-place. Separatist leaders say 150 people were arrested, and Yemeni security open-fired on protesters, injuring six people. They say three cities have declared a state of emergency, and have no open roads, phone lines, or internet connections.

The government accuses separatists of killing soldiers and officials, setting bombs in residential neighborhoods, and burning civilian businesses owned by northern Yemenis.

Separatists say the government has used the 1990 agreement that unified the country to steal southern resources and jobs. They report random arrests, harassment, violence and killings.

But not everyone in southern Yemen supports the separatist movement. Many say they are sympathetic and believe a lot of the protesters' complaints are legitimate. But they still want Yemen to remain unified, for the sake of stability and peace.

Abdulgheni Abdullah, from the northern city of Taiz, says he has lived in southern Yemen for 19 years. At his toy store in an Aden market he says he loves the people of the south, and will never leave. But unlike many southerners he fully supports a single, unified country. "No north, no south," he says, "It is all Yemen."

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