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As violence returns to Yemen protests, president blames foreign plots

From Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
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Yemen unrest
  • NEW: One protester reportedly killed actually survived a gunshot wound to neck
  • Yemen's president says foreign agendas threaten country's stability
  • At least six are wounded from most recent clashes
  • Saturday marks the ninth consecutive day of protests in Yemen
  • Yemen

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- As the ninth day of protests left six wounded Saturday, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh blamed the roiling unrest on foreign agendas and a plot against Yemen's stability, according to the state-run Saba news agency.

"Everybody has the right to express his views peacefully and has the right to have a say through media as there are many democratic means for the expression of opinion," Saleh told Saturday's founding conference of Civil Society Organizations, according to Saba.

The president said he hoped the conference will come up with recommendations to alleviate the country's current unstable situation.

"We do not want to copy others, but we shall define what we want," he said, according to Saba.

Saleh expressed concern about violence in the coastal city of Aden, where five people have been killed since Wednesday in anti-government demonstrations, hospital and government officials said.

Saleh urged non-violent change through the ballot box, according to the state-run news agency.

In an attempt to quell growing discontent, Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against an offshoot of al Qaeda in Yemen, has announced he won't seek another term in 2013 after being in power for 32 years. He also said he would postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for April to allow more time for discussions about reform.

Yemen's situation is exacerbated by the U.S.-aided crackdown on al Qaeda, a Shiite uprising, a secessionist movement in its once-independent south, and a looming shortage of water.

Hundreds of Yemeni anti-government protesters clashed with pro-government demonstrators Saturday at Sanaa University, eyewitnesses and a local human rights group said.

Gunshots were fired into the crowd, leaving at least six wounded, they said.

Abdul Rahman Barman, head of the human rights group HOOD, corrected an earlier account he provided about one student supposedly being killed in the demonstration. Barman said the chaos at the scene caused the error.

Instead, that student, Bassam Othman, an anti-government demonstrator, was shot in the neck and was showing improvement while in Kuwait Hospital, said his brother, Sabri.

The brother accused pro-government gang members of firing upon the crowd and questioned why the riot police didn't step in and protect students who were demonstrating.

"What's happening is because of chaos and because of lack of security. Even if they were anti-government protesters, where is the security to keep us safe?" Sabri Othman told CNN. "The whole world is seeing this and seeing that it's wrong. These tactics that are being used means the regime here is falling apart."

Four other injured persons were hospitalized and are in stable condition, said Khulaid Mashraqi, a local doctor. Two were shot in the leg while the other two had wounds to the head, he said.

"There were 30 to 40 pro-government gang members there that were randomly shooting at us," said Esam Al-Hajjaji, an anti-government protester who was shot in the leg.

Saturday marked the ninth consecutive day of protests in Yemen.

The Yemen parliament expressed its regrets Saturday for all the victims of the ongoing violent demonstrations, according to the state-run news outlet.

In a statement, the parliament condemned any outlaw sabotage and violence as well as attempts to disturb the country's security and stability.

It rejected any efforts promoting "hatred and regionalism culture" and called on security forces to enhance stability and protect citizens, according to Saba. The parliament also called upon all Yemenis to put Yemen first among their priorities.

Saba reported Saturday that an official source at the Interior Ministry has denounced some reports that security personnel in civilian clothes participated in marches.

"These fabrications are baseless and aims at insulting the security services," the source told Saba.

The source also said security personnel are present in uniform near all rallies of pro- and anti-government marchers to maintain security and public order.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Friday voicing concern for what it called "a disturbing rise in the number and violence of attacks against Yemeni citizens gathering peacefully to express their views on the current political situation."

The embassy said it had received reports that government officials were present during the attacks.

"The attacks are contrary to the commitments that President Saleh has made to protect the right of Yemeni citizens to gather peacefully to express their views," the statement said.

On Friday, supporters of Ali Abdullah Saleh hurled rocks and plunged into a crowd calling for the longtime president's ouster in Sanaa as similar protests gained momentum in other Yemeni towns.

In the wake of Egyptians successfully toppling President Hosni Mubarak more than a week ago, thousands of people in several Arab nations were trying to score their own victories.

On Friday, Yemenis marched to Sanaa University, where security forces and riot police tried to stay between rival demonstrators.

"After Mubarak, now it's Ali's turn," chanted the anti-government protesters. "The people want the fall of the regime."

"I'm out here today because we want the president to go and we want to make sure that he and his family don't stay in power," said Khalid Amer, a student.

Despite concessions from Saleh, a rising tide of anger is sweeping through Yemen's youth, who say they are simply fed up with the status quo.

Saleh met earlier in the week with his National Defense Council to discuss discontent in his nation. The council "stressed all should practice their rights according to the constitution, in a peaceful way and without violence, chaos, sabotage and lawbreaking," Saba reported.

Saleh has also been in touch with King Hamad of Bahrain, also mired in unrest.

"He pointed out that there are schemes aimed at plunging the region into chaos and violence targeting the nation's security and the stability of its countries," according to Saba. "Those who commit acts of disorder and vandalism (are) simply implementing suspicious foreign agendas."

The report didn't suggest who might be behind the agendas.

Journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.

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