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Yemeni women burn veils to protest regime

From Mohammed Jamjoom and Hakim Almasmari, CNN
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Wed October 26, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The women gathered their veils and scarves in a pile and set it ablaze
  • The act is highly symbolic in the conservative Muslim nation
  • A protester accused Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime of killing women and children
  • She said women would not tolerate silence from tribal leaders

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemeni women defiantly burned their traditional veils Wednesday in protest of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

Thousands of women gathered in the capital, Sanaa, said witnesses. They carried banners that read: "Saleh the butcher is killing women and is proud of it" and "Women have no value in the eyes in Ali Saleh."

They collected their veils and scarves in a huge pile and set it ablaze -- an act that is highly symbolic in the conservative Islamic nation, where women use their veils to cover their faces and bodies. It's the first time in the nine months of Yemen's uprising that such an event has occurred.

Inspired by Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman's Nobel Peace Prize this month, more and more Yemeni women have taken to the streets and escalated their campaign for help from the international community.

More than 60 women were attacked in October alone by the government, said protester Ruqaiah Nasser. Government forces are raiding homes and also killing children, she said.

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She said silence from tribal leaders on the matter is a "disgrace."

"We will not stay quiet and will defend ourselves if our men can't defend us," Nasser said. "Tribes must understand they will not be respected by Yemeni women if they stay quiet while their women are being attacked by the Saleh regime. Tribes who ignore our calls are cowards and have no dignity."

"Saleh is killing women and children and this is against tribal culture," she said. "Where are their voices when we need them? It's a disgrace if they stay quiet."

The women's protests came after the Yemeni government announced a cease-fire Tuesday. But that did not appear to be holding.

At least 10 people died and dozens were injured earlier Tuesday in clashes between Yemeni government security forces in the country's capital and the province of Taiz, medical officials reported.

Yemen's government has said that opposition-supported militants are responsible for the violence.

Saleh summoned the U.S. ambassador and reiterated a promise to sign an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in which he would step aside in exchange for immunity from prosecution, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

However, Saleh has repeatedly promised to sign the council-backed deal and not done so. The embattled leader has clung to power through the protracted protests.

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