Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the street protests and demands for his removal were “like a flu,” which had spread from Tunisia to Egypt and was contaminating the Arab world. According to the Toronto Star:
“Why do you turn to violence? Why do you turn to the destruction of things? This is an infection, it’s not in our culture, it’s not in our tradition,” he told journalists in a rare news conference Monday morning.
Saleh refused to step down, warning that the country would descend into anarchy if the government collapsed. Saleh has outlived the Cold War division, civil war and an al-Qaeda insurgency but is now scrambling to see his term through to the end as unending popular uprisings test his grip on power.
Although he vowed to not run again in the 2013 elections, he has twice made this same promise and few believe him.
Saleh said of opposition leaders and student protestors: “I can guarantee you they cannot manage the government for one week.”
Tens of thousands of protesters on Monday took to the streets of Sanaa, the southern city of Aden, the northern city of Saada – stronghold of Shi’ite Huthi rebels – the western port city of Al-Hudaydah and in Taez, south of Sanaa.
Twelve people have been killed and dozens more wounded in protests against Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.
The violence is greater in the southern city of Aden, where there has been a strong separatist movement since the country’s 1990 unification as the issue of secession is now being conflated with the student’s demands.
The student-led protests have been going on for 11 days now and protestors have taken over a couple city blocks outside the gates of Sanaa University, where they have been waging a 24-hour sit-in, turning the area into the epicenter of their movement, not unlike like Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
About a dozen opposition parliamentarians have also joined students. Meanwhile, Yemeni clerics issued a fatwa prohibiting the use of force against protesters and called for a ban on arbitrary arrest and torture.
“Any act of beating or killing of protesters is a deliberate crime,” said the association of Yemeni clerics headed by Sheikh Abdul Majid Zindani.
One student scoffed and called Saleh’s comments propaganda:
“He has said a lot of things, but no one believes him. For 32 years he hasn’t done anything, we’re still waiting,” he said. “It’s a disease for him but for us it’s a cure.”