At least 8 die in clashes over subsidy cut

SANAA (AP) — At least eight Yemenis died when rioters and security forces clashed in different areas of Yemen Wednesday, a day after the government said it would reduce subsidies on oil products by more than half.
Early morning, angry protesters marched in the streets of Sanaa and in other cities of Yemen, pelting security forces with stones, setting tyres on fire and attacking public property in defiance of the government’s decision to impose a 7-month old decision to minimise subsidies on oil products.

The government said it was to curb a budget deficit, but has postponed it more than three times to avoid sparking protests.

The military and the elite Republican Guards, overseen by the president’s son, showed up on the streets of the capital, reinforcing police presence across the city to control protesters and in one neighbourhood, tried to prevent protesters from charging towards the ruling party’s office headquarters in the capital. A few hundred protesters were also prevented from getting to the presidential palace.

Police confirmed that eight people, including a security guard, were killed in demonstrations that turned violent in the capital and the southwestern provinces of Dhamar and Ad Dali, 155 kilometres and 200 kilometres south of Yemen, respectively.

Residents in a commercial street in the capital said two people were killed, including a 12-year old, in an exchange of fire with security forces. There was no official confirmation of this report, but there is an abundance of privately-owned weapons in the Arab nation.

Earlier, witnesses in Ad Dali said that two people were injured in clashes that involved police, military and private citizens thought to be armed.

The government has not commented on Wednesday’s violent clashes. It said previously that lifting subsidies was meant to help alleviate the budget deficit.

Critics, however, said curbing public expenditure all round, including military spending, would have been more effective.

The hundreds of protesters in the capital came from mostly low income neighbourhoods in the north, east and south of Sanaa, meeting in the city centre and tearing down billboard posters, burning tyres, and pelting police standing in front of the ruling party office with stones.

Smoke could be seen swelling atop the city and gunshots were heard in different neighbourhoods.

Three civilian cars were overturned and set on fire on the road to the airport.

Some military vehicles were seen protecting the ruling party’s offices in the northern neighbourhood of Al Hassada, together with riot police and military police. Truckloads of soldiers were seen leaving camps and heading to the city’s main streets.

Most of the main streets were blocked by security to stop the flow of protesters to the area.

About 300 protesters wrenched metal tree protectors from their bases to use to as road blocks, halting traffic to the airport. Hundreds shouted: “No Bajammal after today,” referring to Prime Minister Abdul-Kader Bajammal.

Riot police fired gun shots in the air to disperse the crowd which later re-gathered and pelted police with stones. Police retaliated with water cannons.

There were no official reports of damage.

Shops around the city were seen opening and then closing after the rioters swarmed the streets. In one neighbourhood, rioters tore down a poster of Yemeni Airlines and attacked a private company’s office, destroying its computers and belongings, witnesses said.

But by late afternoon, the demonstrators dispersed, mostly because of heavy rain, but also to meet in typical afternoon gatherings where Yemenis consume “qat,” a stimulant popular in the country.

Gasoline, diesel, kerosene and gas compressed in containers for public use will be sold at almost double the price as a result of the subsidy reduction. Tickets for some public transport increased by about 30 per cent starting midnight Tuesday.

The government said it would offset the increase in prices by cutting tariffs and taxes on sales while promising to carry out a gradual increase in salaries and wages. It also said it would include 200,000 new cases to the government’s social care programme.

Yemen endured two days of clashes in mid-March between police and protesters when the government proposed a new tax bill that raised prices on a wide range of goods by 10 per cent.

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