A demonstration on the first anniversary of President Mansour al-Hadi’s “election” turned to massacre in the port city of Aden in southern Yemen on Thursday of last week.
Hadi’s had been the sole candidate, chosen by the leaders of the Gulf states and the US.
Aden and the south had largely boycotted last year’s election and has witnessed mass protests demanding independence from the government in the north.
Al-Islah, Aden’s unpopular governing party, and part of Yemen’s ruling coalition, planned “unity” celebrations in the city’s Khormaksar parade square. It mobilised nationally and bussed its supporters in from outside the South. It put a heavy guard around the square.
But supporters of the Al-Harak, the South Yemeni independence movement, staged a mass opposition protest, marching to the same square.
Eyewitnesses report that militia and soldiers opened fire on the opposition protest as it approached the square. It was also targeted by snipers on buildings. The BBC reports that six were killed and dozens injured.
The governor of the province, a member of Al-Islah, outrageously claimed that the violence was necessary to stop a “bigger disaster” if the protesters had reached the “unity” rally.
But anger at the killings spread quickly. Protesters fought running battles with the military on both Thursday and Friday in different cities in the south. The protesters were armed with fireworks and burning tyres. They blocked roads, burned Al-Islah offices and targeted businesses linked with the regime.
Civil disobedience continued with the blocking of roads and a general strike shut down both the public and private sector across southern cities on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
One eyewitness reported on Monday, “The protests reached Little Aden today [across the bay from the main city]. The army mostly from Al–Islah party gunned down our unarmed people”.
Dozens have been killed and hundreds wounded across the south, and the attacks are ongoing. The military has attacked hospitals and ambulances and arrested patients. It is targeting activists.
The airport and all major government buildings are under heavy guard. The airport is closed, which helps keep the international media away.
Hanin, a university student from Malaa, reports, “When young people blocked the Malaa main road, tanks, armoured vehicles and army personal entered the city and terrorised us.”
President Hadi unexpectedly arrived in Aden on Sunday to meet with officials and discuss beefing up security measures.
Al-Harak has become the focal point of ongoing peaceful mass resistance in Yemen and is able to mobilise major demonstrations. There are growing new independent unions in South Yemen and when Al-Harak calls for civil disobedience, government workers, private workers and small business answer. Its main demand is to “disconnect” the south from the north.
Protesters carry the old flag of South Yemen, which was independent until 1990. The flag of the united Yemen is widely seen in the south as the symbol of over 20 years of forced occupation and repression by the northern government and military. The regime has habitually employed armed provocateurs to spread to attempt to discredit the movement and justify a military response.
The crisis is likely to intensify towards 18 March, when the United Nations backed National Dialogue conference takes place. Al-Harak is boycotting the conference and likely to call for mass protests on the day to voice the popular opposition.
Hadis’ military build up in the South could indicate plans to try to crush this growing threat to his and the US’s control over Yemen, using the marginal presence of Al Qaida in the South and alleged violence by Al-Harak as the pretext.