Middle East

Yemen protesters show unity and determination

Protesters in Yemeni capital Sanaa - 26 March 2011
Image caption A city of tents has developed in the centre of the Yemeni capital

Change Square in the centre of the Yemeni capital has been transformed into a sprawling tent city, reports the BBC's correspondent in Sanaa, who cannot be named for safety reasons.

The protesters come from all regions of Yemen and all walks of life. For two months now, they've prayed together, shared meals and debated the future of their country.

As music and political speeches blare from loudspeakers, children play in the streets and men gather to chew qat - a mildly narcotic leaf. In tents next to them young people on their laptops are posting updates on various social networks.

Sanaa's tent city is a world apart; almost every tent has its own television set, there is a wifi internet network, art exhibitions, political awareness seminars, concerts and charity campaigns.

"It's outstanding. I never thought we could be this united," says Alaa, one of the student protesters.

Everyone here seems enchanted by this sense of unity among people whose country is famous for being divided along regional and tribal lines.

Test of unity

Men and women, old and young, civil society activist and tribal leaders, northerners and southerners, secularists and Islamists are all coming together in a campaign to get rid of the man who has ruled them for three decades.

Their unity, sceptics say, could be shaky and once Ali Abdullah Saleh goes, then people of Yemen will return to their uneasy co-existence.

"I don't think so," says Alaa. "This uprising has taught us a lot about each other. We'll be a more mature society when this ends."

But the end of Yemen's revolution may still be a long way off.

Image caption Many of the tents have satellite television and a wifi network

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised to "transfer power constitutionally" and welcomed a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council of the Gulf Arab States, which called on him to hand over power to his deputy.

The problem, the opposition says, is that the proposal did not set a timetable and stopped short of calling on him to resign, which could technically leave him in office until 2013. The deal also offered guarantees of protection from prosecution to the president and his family.

"We totally reject this," says a youth leader, Tawakul Karman. "He has to go now and he has to answer for the crimes he and his sons have committed."

The GCC proposal could still provide a useful framework for negotiations. But the danger of it, some argue, is that it releases pressure on Mr Saleh at the time of escalating violence.

High cost

This uprising has already cost more than 100 lives. Even on a quiet day, the field hospital set up in the mosque in the middle of Sanaa's tent city is overwhelmed.

In a corner, a young man called Muhtar cringes from pain. He's had repeated convulsions ever since attending a demonstration that was broken up by tear gas.

Image caption More than 100 have been killed and many more injured in recent unrest

In the hospital's makeshift emergency room, two other young men who have just been brought in twist in seizures.

As nurses pull out oxygen masks, another doctor changes a dressing on a leg of a middle-aged man, who was caught up in violence on the 18 March when snipers on roofs around the square shot dead 53 protesters.

"Look at this, we need help, we need the international community to really push Saleh to go," says Salah, a young photographer who had his arm broken in recent clashes.

Salah, like several other people the BBC has spoken to, says that he has seen security services load up injured and dead into trucks and drive them away. These stories are difficult to confirm, but accounts of eyewitnesses are consistent.

Mr Saleh is fighting for not only for his political survival, he is also fighting for the future of his family members, many of whom hold powerful positions.

His political opponents may be pushed to compromise, but young people, who started this uprising, say that they will not.

"We found our dignity in this square," says Tawakul Karman. "There is no chance that we will now let him to take it away."

A round of gunfire erupts in the distance, interrupting her.

"We don't care, they can shoot," she smiles. "We are ready to pay for our freedom"

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