Hundreds of thousands march in Yemen; al-Qaeda back in action?

Hundreds of thousands of protesters again took to the streets in Yemen on March 30—despite a new offer from the President Ali Abdullah Saleh to remain in office until the end of the year but only in a ceremonial role. Opposition officials negotiating with the president said that Saleh’s offer would see him handing over the bulk of his powers to a transitional ruling council until elections are held at the end of the year. The opposition said it is still considering its response, but protesters accused Saleh of stalling and seeking unduly to influence the appointment of his successor. “The president throws his different cards here and there every minute and every day and manoeuvres… in an attempt to remain in power,” said Mohammed Qahtan the parliamentary opposition’s spokesman. (The Telegraph, March 30)

Hundreds of young Yemenis also took to the streets of Aden on March 29 in response to a massive blast and fire at an ammunition plant near Jaar that left 150 people dead. The protesters, including many women, blamed the authorities in Abyan province for the blast. The plant was apparently looted by al-Qaeda militants after the explosion, and it is believed that the terror organization was behind the blast. The incident, two months into the nationwide revolt against President Saleh, came as a security official said suspected al-Qaeda militants had seized control of Jaar and surrounding villages. But the protesters, carrying black flags as a symbol of mourning, laid responsibility for what they termed the “Abyan massacre” on the authorities’ negligence. (SABA, Middle East Online, March 30)

In another sign that the militant network is playing catch-up with the civil movements in the Middle East, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued a statement welcoming the wave of revolutions engulfing the region as a “Tsunami of Change,” the SITE monitoring service said March 30. The latest issue of the group’s English-language e-magazine “Inspire” includes a cover story by Anwar al-Awlaki, arguing: “The revolution broke the barriers of fear in the hearts and minds that the tyrants couldn’t be removed. We do not know yet what the outcome would be, and we do not have to. The outcome doesn’t have to be an Islamic government for us to consider what is occurring to be a step in the right direction.” But another article urged Egyptians to demand a government based on Sharia law. (Middle East Online, March 30)

See our last posts on Saudi Arabia and the regional revolutions.

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