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Yemen's Day of Rage ends in a whimper

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Government supporters' numbers matched, if not outnumbered, the opposition
(Image by Nasser al-Mansur)
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Sana'a, Yemen - Thousands of tribesmen flocked to Sana'a from its outlying villages in support of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh a day before Yemen's opposition party protests, scheduled for Thursday. As evening fell on Tahrir Square, one of Sana'a's main city centers, Saleh supporters sat under tents that were erected to house those coming from outside the city without homes to stay in.

While Islah, Socialist, and Nasserite opposition members were beginning to gather in front of Sana'a University, thousands of Saleh supporters were already marching through the streets with posters of the president's portrait, chanting, "With soul, with blood, we protect Ali," [the president].

The opposition protest, led by the Islah party, Yemen's Islamist political organization, gathered in front of Sana'a University close to 9 AM local time. In the style of Islah's previous demonstrations, protesters wore pink sashes and waved printed signs that were distributed amongst them. As helicopters flew overhead, 10 thousand opposition protesters chanted, "The people want to topple the regime." I spite of the Islah party's claim that almost 1 million people were demonstrating against the government in Sana'a, Reuters and the BBC both estimate the number to be closer to 10 thousand.

As both protests increased in size to amount to almost 12 thousand, the two demonstrations began to grow closer together. While some feared that clashes would break out between the two camps, peace was maintained amidst heightened security.

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Thousands of riot police and republican guard Special Forces were posted throughout the city on street corners and where demonstrations were planned to take place. Tanks and light armored vehicles guarded government buildings, banks, and other places of economic importance. While fears of violence were expressed by both sides throughout the week leading up to the protest, no injuries were reported.

As noon approached, demonstrators from both sides began filing out. As is custom in Yemen, lunch should be eaten before one can begin the day's qat chew. Considering that Thursday is the first day of Yemen's Islamic weekend, qat chewing often takes precedence over other important things on the people's day off.

A day before the protests, president Saleh pledged to resign from office at the end of his term in 2013 as well as promising that his son would not be appointed to take his place. In recent months, Yemen's ruling party, the General People's Congress (GPC) has been cooperating with the Yemen's opposition bloc (JMP) to engage in further dialogue in order hold April's planned parliamentary elections on schedule.    

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Jeb Boone is a freelance journalist based in Sana'a, Yemen. He regularly contributes to the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian's Comment is Free and Global Post. Boone is also the managing editor of the Yemen Times.

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