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Sun 20 Feb 2011 09:00 PM

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Yemen separatist leader arrested, protests draw fire

Shots fired at demonstration in Sanaa as thousands stage sit-in protests in cities of Ibb and Taiz

Yemen separatist leader arrested, protests draw fire
Yemeni police hold back government supporters holding up images of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as anti-government protesters gather near by calling for the ouster Saleh in the capital Sanaa (Getty Images)

The leader of Yemen's secessionist Southern Movement was arrested and shots
were fired at a demonstration in the capital Sanaa on Sunday as unrest hit the
poor Arab country for a ninth consecutive day.

Thousands of people also staged sit-ins in the cities of Ibb and Taiz,
demanding the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who renewed his call
for opposition parties to pursue a dialogue with the government.

Saleh, a US ally battling a resurgent al Qaeda wing based in Yemen, has held
power for 32 years in an Arabian Peninsula state that faces soaring
unemployment, dwindling oil and water reserves, and chronic unrest in northern
and southern provinces.

Security in the southern port of Aden was stepped up on Sunday with tanks
and armoured vehicles out on main streets.

Hasan Baoum, head of the secessionist Southern Movement, was arrested by an
"armed military group" in an Aden hospital where he was receiving
treatment, his son Fadi Hasan Baoum told Reuters.

Baoum was also arrested in November last year, accused of planning illegal

Saleh renewed his call for dialogue with opposition parties and blamed the
last two days of protests, in which five people were killed, on "elements
outside the system and the law".

"Dialogue is the best way. Not sabotage. Not blocking the roads,"
he told tribal, military and civil leaders in Sanaa.

But the coalition of main opposition parties, including the Islamist Islah
and the secular Socialist Party, said there could be no dialogue with
"bullets and sticks and thuggery", or with a government "which
gathers mercenaries to occupy public squares and terrorise people".

Around 50 government supporters tried to break up a demonstration outside
Sanaa University by 1,000 protesters.

A Saleh supporter fired shots from an assault rifle but there were no
reported casualties and the government supporters soon dispersed, while the
protesters continued their demonstration chanting, "Leave, Ali!"

Both sides fired weapons on Saturday outside the university -- the first
reported use of firearms by demonstrators. Several protesters were hurt in
those clashes and five people including young girls were wounded in the
southern town of Sheikh Othman, apparently by stray bullets.

Protests have taken place across Yemen, a country of 23 million which
borders the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

In the southern city of Ibb, around 1,000 protesters set up camp in Freedom
Square waving banners which read "Leave" and "The people want
the fall of the regime", witnesses said.

In Taiz, thousands continued a sit-in for the ninth day. Twelve Yemeni human
rights organisations demanded the sacking and trials of security officials in
Aden, Sanaa and Taiz because of their role in attacks against demonstrators,
according to a statement seen by Reuters.

On Saturday, Saleh blamed a "foreign agenda" and a
"conspiracy against Yemen, its security and stability" for the
protests against poverty, unemployment and corruption which have gained
momentum since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Saleh is facing an al Qaeda branch that has launched attacks at home and
abroad as well as a separatist revolt in the south. He is also trying to
maintain a shaky truce with Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north.

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