Eleven people killed in Yemeni fuel price riots


  • World
  • Friday, 22 Jul 2005

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA, Yemen (Reuters) - Eleven people were killed and scores injured on Thursday in a second day of clashes between Yemeni security forces and rioters protesting fuel price increases. 

In the capital Sanaa, tanks and armored vehicles took up positions around the presidential palace, government ministries and oil sector offices. It was the first time tanks had been seen in Sanaa since the rioting broke out on Wednesday. 

Tanks are positioned outside Sanaa University on the second day of violent protests in the Yemeni capital Sanaa July 21, 2005. Eleven people were killed and scores injured on Thursday in a second day of clashes between Yemeni security forces and rioters protesting fuel price increases. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Analysts said the riots posed a challenge to the government but were unlikely to shake the grip of long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism -- who has weathered worse storms in the past, including a civil war. 

As calm returned to parts of Yemen late on Thursday, protests broke out for the first time in the southern port city of Aden. Witnesses said two demonstrators were killed in clashes in which chanting crowds set fire to a petrol station. 

The death toll from the two days of rioting stood at 24, the heaviest in Yemeni protests since 1998 when 34 people died in two weeks of demonstrations against fuel and food price rises. 

Yemen, an oil-producer with declining resources, says the fuel price rises are in line with high global oil prices and are part of reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank launched in 1995 to prevent economic collapse. 

Protesters clashed with security forces in Sanaa and at least six provinces. 

Three people were killed when police fired at protesters trying to break into state oil facilities in the Red Sea port town of Houdeida. In the southern Ta'iz area, two people -- one a 9-year-old boy -- were killed. 

Two policemen were killed in the northern province of Saada and two civilians died in the eastern province of Marib. 

FIERCEST CLASHES 

The Houdeida clashes appeared to be the fiercest and witnesses said shots were fired. Unrest broke out again late on Thursday and heavy gunfire was heard, residents said. 

Most of Houdeida's oil production is for local use rather than export. Yemen's oil sector provides 65 percent of the national budget revenue and pumps 450,000 barrels per day. 

In Washington, the IMF said the elimination of fuel subsidies was one of a set of tough measures the government had taken to adapt to the expected decline in oil output. 

"The reasons for this and the accompanying measures to limit the impact of this decision on the most vulnerable groups were clearly laid out in the official statement issued by the government when it announced the decision," IMF spokesman Thomas Dawson told Reuters. 

He said the IMF had also pressed the Yemeni authorities to increase the coverage of a social welfare fund that distributes cash subsidies to impoverished families. 

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abdul-Qader Bagammal called for calm, saying people "must differentiate between freedom of expression and freedom of destruction." 

Police patrolling streets with loudspeakers warned people against destroying public and private property. 

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa advised Americans to remain vigilant and asked its personnel to avoid nonessential travel. 

The government said on Tuesday it would offset the increase by cutting custom tariffs, raising state salaries and reducing a planned general sales tax from 10 percent to five. 

But as soon as the increase went into effect on Wednesday, thousands of protesters took to the streets, destroying government offices, throwing stones at security forces and blocking roads by setting tyres on fire. 

Critics said the government must end state corruption and cut military expenditure to help shore up the economy. 

According to World Bank figures, more than 42 percent of Yemen's 19 million people live below the poverty line, illiteracy is around 50 percent and unemployment is more than 20 percent. The population is expected to double in 20 years. 

Most analysts say the government is unlikely to reverse the fuel price rise but could reduce it to appease public anger. 

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