At least five protesters were killed and scores of others wounded Thursday in the Yemeni capital Sana'a after gunmen in civilian clothes opened fire on them. Violence broke out despite the signing Wednesday, by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, of a plan to hand over power and hold new elections in three months.
Witnesses say gunmen in tribal attire opened fire on the crowd of mostly young protesters Thursday after they began marching from their main encampment at what is now called “Change Square.”
Arab satellite channels said the shootings took place as the protesters began marching in the direction of the presidential palace. Journalist Tom Finn also tweeted that “thousands of angry men marched out of Change Square.....saying they're heading for the palace.”
Al Arabiya TV showed video of the bodies of five dead protesters, along with images of ambulances ferrying wounded protesters to hospitals.
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who signed a Gulf Cooperation Council plan Wednesday to transfer power to his vice president along with new presidential elections in three months, condemned the killings and ordered an investigation into what happened.
"The government wants people to feel that if Saleh leaves everything will turn chaotic," said
Hakim Almasmari, who is Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Post newspaper. He insists that supporters of President Saleh are behind the shootings.
"Most of the protesters today blamed the ruling family for the attacks and eyewitnesses said that they saw gunmen escape the scene of the attacks in government vehicles," he said.
Photo Gallery: Protests in Yemen
A top interior ministry official denied that the government was responsible for Thursday's violence.
Almasmari says despite the signing of the GCC peace accord, President Saleh's son and nephews still control much of the country's military apparatus, leaving Saleh with many levers of power.
"Saleh's sons and nephews control over 300,000 troops right now, over 80,000 central security forces, over 110,000 Republican Guard, the special forces, the counter-terror units," he noted. "These are all still under the control of the ruling family. We cannot consider the Saleh regime over until these forces are out of their hands. If not, it does not differ whether he is out of [power] or not, because he indirectly controls more parts of the military."
President Saleh is the fourth Arab leader who will have been forced to leave office this year. He is expected to travel from Saudi Arabia to the United States for medical treatment soon, before settling in an unspecified Gulf country.
Timeline of events in Yemen