Yemen riots after subsidy cut leave 16 dead, more than 30 injured
SAN’A, Yemen – Rioters enraged by subsidy cuts clashed with security forces for a second day Thursday across Yemen, burning cars and buildings and leaving 16 people dead in the country’s worst civil strife in more than a decade.What began as anger over a crumbling economy turned into a rare open expression of fury at Yemen’s leadership, with rioters demanding the government’s ouster and burning pictures of top officials, witnesses said.Security forces launched tear gas canisters, beat demonstrators with batons and opened fire on stone-throwing protesters at government buildings – including the oil ministry – in the capital, San’a.Fires broke out and gunfire was heard in several neighborhoods, and army tanks lined the main streets and surrounded the offices of the Cabinet and ruling party, and buildings used by radio and television stations.But the clashes were not confined to the capital, erupting in at least a half-dozen cities. In one town, rioters swept into a police station and freed all the prisoners they found.Yemen is a close ally of the United States in the war on terrorism, waging a crackdown that has led to the arrests or killings of dozens of Islamic militants, and the United States has signed an economic pact with Yemen intended to open up its economy to international trade and investment.But the decrepit economy has sparked growing resentment in the mountainous, tribal-dominated nation. Yemen discovered oil in 1986, but oil wealth has not made it to the public and the government has been accused of rampant corruption. Unemployment is 36 percent.Public cynicism toward the government also is high. President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced last week that he would not run in presidential elections in September 2006, calling for a new generation to be allowed to govern. But many Yemenis dismissed the gesture, saying he would likely change his mind or bring his son into power.”Prices have risen and we’re afflicted, while not one single corrupt official has been held accountable,” said Mohammaed al-Baazany, a 25-year-old unemployed university graduate. “There are officials living in houses worth $10,000 when their (monthly) salary is only $100. Where is all that coming from?”Hunger is merciless.”The violence began Wednesday, a day after the government announced it was cutting subsidies on oil products by more than half, part of new belt-tightening reforms under a deal with the International Monetary Fund.The cuts mean a near doubling of prices of gasoline, diesel and kerosene – with gas prices at the pump reaching $8 per gallon. Tickets for some public transport increased by about 30 percent.One person was killed in San’a, three more in the city of Sa’dah to the northwest, and a total of 12 more in the cities of Marib in the north, Dali and Taaz in the south and the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, according to police and medical officials.At least 30 people were injured, officials said. The deaths come after at least eight people were killed Wednesday.The last time Yemen saw such civil strife was in 1992, when price boosts again triggered riots.The subsidy cuts are part of an economic reform program initiated after Yemen signed a 1995 agreement with the IMF, which promised financial assistance in exchange for such reforms as privatization and reduction of subsidies.Police detained at least six journalists from local papers covering Thursday’s riots, said Hafez al-Bukary, head of the Press Syndicate. Soldiers confiscated an Associated Press reporter’s camera.More than 48 protesters have been rounded up by police in San’a and Dali since the clashes started, police officials said.