SANAA, Yemen — At least 12 people were killed and scores more injured when Yemen security forces and police in civilian clothes opened fire on anti-government protesters in the southern city of Taiz on Monday.
Raqiqa al-Kuhali, a human rights activist based in Taiz, said that Monday’s violence was similar to the massacre that took place in Sanaa, the country’s capital, on March 18. Snipers killed 52 people during that attack.
“Plainclothes snipers shot at protesters from surrounding rooftops. It’s a tactic that the regime has used before to slaughter anti-government protesters,” she said.
Al-Kuhali also said that heavy .50-caliber machine guns were used to cut down protesters who were marching toward government buildings.
“Genocide is being committed against the people of Yemen,” she said.
Al-Kuhali said she thought the number of those killed would rise as injured protesters crowding local hospitals succumbed to their wounds.
The violence came as U.S. officials indicated they would no longer support Yemen’s longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the country for more than 30 years. Saleh had been an important ally for the United States in its fight against Al Qaeda and had largely avoided taking sides except to condemn government violence against protesters.
But over the weekend, the New York Times reported that the United States was increasingly viewing Saleh’s position as untenable and now believed he should leave office.
Saleh’s grip on power has increasingly weakened in the face of a stubborn protest movement that has returned to the streets time and time again in the face of brutal crackdowns. A growing list of military and government officials have announced their defections and the president’s authority appears to have all but vanished in vast regions outside of the capital.
Taking the government's place appears to be a smattering of tribes, Shiite rebels and other groups now united in opposition to Saleh. The United States and Britain have both expressed concern that in all the unrest Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could make a comeback, a worry that Saleh himself has repeatedly used to justify his continued hold on power.
In several key rural districts, the government has been completely driven out.
In Saada, Yemen’s troubled northern province that borders Saud Arabia, rebels belonging to the militant Shiite insurgent group Houthi, together with locals and former military personnel, chased away the governor and replaced him with Faris Manaa, a shadowy figure with connections to the Houthis and who is thought be a prolific arms dealer.
Saleh has fought the Houthi rebellion, which the president said is intent on establishing an Islamic government in the country, for more than a decade. When the Shiite rebels threatened to move into Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia in 2009, the kingdom’s military might was unleashed against them.
Manaa, the new governor, said he is confident that the Saudi military would not interfere in Saada this time around.
“We don’t fear the Saudis,” he said in an interview.
In the nearby region of al-Jawf, anti-government tribes have swept through in a campaign to seize government buildings and “reclaim them for the revolution.”
Influential Sheikh Sanan al-Iraqi has been leading his forces across the province throughout the past week.
“After military defections, Saleh replaced the commander of a major military base here with one of his loyalists. The soldiers rebelled against him and along with tribal assistance, we have retaken the camp,” al-Iraqi told GlobalPost.
Rebels have also gained partial control of Marib, a province directly east of Sanaa, where fierce battles with tribes still loyal to the president have erupted.
“Loyalist thugs from three of the main tribes in the governorate have attempted to retake large cities but we have managed to hold them off,” said Hussain al-Qadi, a prominent tribal figure, in an interview.
Qadi said that government buildings that have been taken in the provincial capital remain under armed protection of the youth protest security committee.
Following the deaths of 27 people last week in Marib’s capital, the Yemeni government was quick to point the finger at Al Qaeda. But tribal leaders denied that Al Qaeda had had a hand in the revolt.
“Al Qaeda is not in Marib, we have driven them out months ago. Those killed last week were murdered by plainclothes soldiers,” Qadi said.