Hodeida protests escalate amidst police violence

Ali Saeed


HODEIDA, May 11 — According to local sources, five people were injured in Hodeida Tuesday morning by live ammunition fired by police and plainclothes security personnel. In addition, 45 people were beaten with batons and over 500 were suffocated by tear gas.

The violence – committed by security forces against pro-democracy protesters who continue to demand an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule – came after approximately 8,000 demonstrators marched from Hodeida’s Change Square to the main governorate building, demanding that the city’s education office delay students’ exams until President Saleh’s departure.

“When protesters reached the area of the governorate building, the police and armed men fired live ammunition and tear gas at the protesters to disperse them,” said Yahya Al-Qadi, an officer of the media committee at Hodeida’s Change Square.

Al-Qadi explained that the protesters also clashed with armed men who were carrying batons.

Abdul Hafeedh Al-Hatami, a local reporter in Hodeida who has been covering the city’s protests since the beginning of February, said that, “This escalation in Hodeida accompanies countrywide pressure by all protesters in all squares to accelerate Saleh’s departure and to bring him to justice.”

On Wednesday, most of the streets in the city witnessed widespread civil disobedience and many public officers in the governorate were “empty of employees”, according to Al-Hatami.

By marching from Hodeida’s Change Square to the governorate’s public offices, protesters succeeded in halting the city’s traffic, which has already been crippled by Yemen’s ongoing fuel shortage.

This is not the first time that citizens in Hodeida attempted to escalate their demonstration. On 15 April 2011, thousands of angry protesters marched through the city’s streets, removing posters of President Saleh from shops and educational institutions.

“We want to cleanse the city of Saleh’s posters because he is killing peaceful protesters nationwide,” said Khaleel Hassan, a university student who has been protesting in Hodeida for over two months.

It is common to see different sizes of posters bearing President Saleh’s image in all Yemeni cities – posted on electrical poles, hung atop government buildings or within shops and banks.

In Sana’a, Taiz and Aden, one will never find posters of President Saleh where pro-democracy protesters have gathered, as they will have already been torn down months ago.

Now, in Hodeida, the same thing is taking place as President Saleh’s posters are being torn apart by protesters all across the city.

According to Hassan, whenever the young protesters tear down one of the president’s posters, they chant, “Eliminate the thug from our view!”

However, all escalation in Hodeida has been accompanied by violence from security forces and armed supporters of President Saleh.

On 18 April 2011, when protesters attempted to remove one of President Saleh’s posters from Hodeida’s Higher Health Sciences Institute, security forces fired live ammunition and one 10-year old demonstrator was shot in the back.

Similarly, at 2:15am on 19 April 2011, an unknown assailant fired three bullets from the back of a motorcycle towards the city’s Change Square, where some 15,000 protesters have settled. One man was shot in the chest, bringing the number of protest-related deaths in Hodeida up to three, according to political activist Baseem Al-Jinani.

Al-Jinani explained that the protests in Hodeida started with just a few dozen people and that in the beginning, they were vulnerable to daily crackdowns by security forces and thugs loyal to the ruling party.

However, Al-Jinani indicated that after two protesters were killed in the city at the beginning of April, the demonstrations have gained momentum and have begun to expand.

Hodeida governorate has a population of approximately 2.5 million and is the poorest region in the country, with a high percentage of people living on less that one US dollar per day.

Al-Jinani added that the area has traditionally been known as, “The governorate in Yemen that is almost 100 percent loyal to Saleh’s regime. But the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have inspired people to break their silence and to revolt against their ruler.”