SANAA (Reuters) - Opposition supporters swore on Wednesday to keep up their protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule despite violence in which one anti-government demonstrator was killed.
Witnesses said Abdullah Hameed Ali, 28, was shot in the head late on Tuesday after policemen and security agents fired on a group setting up tents in front of Sanaa University — the focal point of the civil unrest.
“They charged at us with their guns and bats and started shooting,” said Raafat Baji, who was one of around 80 people wounded in the attack.
The state news agency Saba blamed the shooting on gunmen linked to a tribal leader and said police were hunting for the culprits. Opposition figures dismissed this and said the attack showed Saleh was getting desperate.
“These attacks signal the beginning of the disintegration of the regime in the face of the youth revolution,” said Mohammed Qahtan, a spokesman for Yemen’s opposition coalition.
Yemen, a neighbor of oil giant Saudi Arabia and the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, has seen a wave a protests in recent weeks inspired by the turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt.
Almost 30 people have been killed in the unrest and analysts have said the situation could degenerate rapidly.
“This is a further indication of the escalation of violence in Yemen as the protests continue,” said Theodore Karasik a security analyst at the Dubai-based INEGMA group.
“Yemen is following the Libya model in that this is tribal-based, whereas Egypt was secular,” he added.
On Wednesday, one protester was killed as demonstrators and supporters of Saleh clashed in Seiyun, a town in the southern province of Hadramout, a local official said.
Two people were injured earlier when police used batons and tear gas to disperse an anti-government demonstration of about 5,000 people in the town, residents said.
Saleh was battling to maintain order in Yemen even before this year’s unrest, struggling to quell rebellions in the north and south, while also helping the United States combat al Qaeda’s active Yemeni operations.
The Saudi-backed president has offered to form what he termed as a unity government, but has refused to bow to demands to remove his relatives from the security apparatus or to step down himself before his term ends in 2013.
Police cars and armored vehicles with armed soldiers and water cannon deployed across the capital on Tuesday and continued to surround the area where protesters are gathered.
Ali Omrani, a major tribal figure who was an ally of the president until this month, said Tuesday’s university attack would only strengthen sentiment against Saleh.
“The president can either leave or keep spilling blood. I hope he retains his dignity and spares Yemen more tragedy after decades of bloody conflicts, most of which could have been avoided,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa, Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Erika Solomon in Dubai)
Writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Elizabeth Fullerton; Angus MacSwan