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Freedom isn't free in Yemen.

On Wednesday, the Yemeni government committed its worst act of violence upon protesters since the deaths of 52 protesters on March 18, killing at least 11 protesters in a march as it passed by the May 22 Stadium. There has been a large security deployment around the streets of Sana'a over the last few days, after the youth coalition in Change Square completely rejected the Gulf initiative that would give, amongst other things, Saleh immunity from prosecution. Calls had been growing for a march on the Presidential Palace, with the popular chant, 'the people want the downfall of the regime', morphing into 'the people want to march on the palace'. The authorities are very frightened by this possible escalation and, when the protesters announced on Tuesday that they were to march to the palace, one of the main routes in Sana'a was completely blocked to prevent them passing. The planned protest itself turned out to be a trick designed to throw the authorities. The protesters carried on their tricks on Wednesday. What was again billed as a march to the palace instead turned the other way, and marched towards the state television headquarters. The march in itself felt a lot more organised than previous marches. A car led the march, which consisted of a couple of hundred thousand people, and blared out anti-government music. The protesters were encouraged to march in rows and link arms. The march was largely uneventful, even quite quiet, until it reached Amran roundabout, an area with a large security deployment. Walking past the large roundabout the protesters began to chant directly at the security forces, referring to their poor wages, and accusing the regime of being the cause of this. The soldiers stood passive. Did they know what was coming for the protesters around the corner? Passing by the flyover, they began to approach the May 22 Stadium, where a protest camp for apparent 'third way' campaigners is located. Many accuse this third, supposedly middle-ground camp, of being a tool of the regime. Just as the front of the march began to pass by the stadium, the shots began to ring out. At first sporadic, it soon became clear that there was a sustained attack being propagated. Within minutes the first casualties were being carried out, bloodied. When the protesters first heard the sustained gunfire many turned to leave. However, a few men decided to take things into their own hands. They shouted for everyone to stay, "hold your ground, don't run." The words seem to have had an effect. Instead of running away, the crowds moved forward. Men began to pray. Others, battle-experienced, moved to break up large rocks. The rocks began to fly. The sky seemed to be filled with rocks, all flying at the stadium's entrance. Something was on fire, the protesters had started to use Molotov's. In the midst of all this, the snipers could clearly be seen. On the rooftops of several buildings they were raining down bullets on the protesters. The area in front of the stadium is an open road, with buildings from all sides. The protesters were sitting ducks. Blood could quite clearly be seen on the floor and on the walls, marking where people had fallen. The gunfire continued to ring out, but different sounds were starting to be heard. Much more rapid gunfire than what would be expected from the snipers. It seemed that an array of weapons was being used by the Yemeni state to fire on its people. The protesters kept on moving forward, attempting to carry on past the stadium. They had mostly gathered at the furthest part of the road from the stadium, ducking, whilst moving forward. Scared, there was the threat of a crush as people tried to push against each other, but they eventually settled. The protesters fear quickly turned into something else, anger. It was as if they had realised that the fear would not get them anywhere. As the anger increased, the crowd grew louder, calling to God, and still chanting "silmiya, silmiya." This is coming from Yemenis, a people who apparently shelter terrorists and are inherently violent. Yemenis continue to prove this wrong. Shouts of "yalla ya shabab," literally "c'mon lads." The protesters responded by moving forward. Eventually, sections had managed to get away from the shooting. The crowds were angry, yet, as they passed a shack carrying Saleh's picture and ruling party flags, they simply carried on walking past. The worst of the rage came as the crowds passed the state television compound. A cameraman could clearly be seen filming the crowds, later on that evening state television news would describe the crowds of hundreds of thousands as an illegal mob. News began to filter through that the security forces had kidnapped people, their fate unknown. One of the dead was a 14 year old child. All of the dead had been hit in the head or torso, apart from one who had been run over by a water truck. The protesters were weary as they approached Change Square, at the end of a 10km march were they faced snipers and machine guns. However, here was one final act of defiance. As they trudged in they chanted in unison, "we're not tired, freedom isn't free."

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:May 2, 2011
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