Southern protests thwarted

Troops were out in force in southern Yemen yesterday to prevent separatist demonstrations timed to coincide with Independence Day – the anniversary of the British withdrawalfrom Aden in 1967.

The last such occasion – Yemen's National Day on October 14 – brought thousands on to the streets in southern cities, many of them waving the old southern flag, and the authorities were clearly determined not to allow a repeat of that yesterday.

Agency reports (ReutersAP) say hundreds of soldiers lined the streets of Aden and set up checkpoints to prevent demonstrators entering the city. About 200 were arrested as they tried to gather in a downtown square for a rally.

Sporadic violence continues in the south, though on a much smaller scale than the Houthi rebellion in the north. Reuters, citing a security official, says that on Sunday activists shot dead a soldier in the southern province of Shabwa and secessionists clashed with the armed forces in the Radfan. One person died and a grenade hit the local intelligence headquarters in the latter incident.

Last week, in a speech to mark Eid al-Adha, President Salih called for a new national dialogue. He said:

"We renew the call to all political forces in the government and opposition with whom we share the responsibility of building and developing our country to discuss all our national issue and concerns through an open dialogue. A dialogue that is away and free from violence or imposing conditions. We need to reach common grounds to achieve the goals of the dialogue." 

It is doubtful whether much will come of this. Although the prime minister has said the dialogue is open to all political parties, there is no sign that the two key elements – the northern Houthis and the southern separatists – will be included.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 December 2009.