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Rival Yemen demos set scene for tense Friday

Yemeni government and opposition call for demonstrations on Friday, march on presidential palace abandoned by protesters fearing deadly violence

AFP , Thursday 31 Mar 2011
Yemen
Anti-government protesters salute during a rally demanding the ouster of Yemen's President's Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, March 27th, (Reuters).
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President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents have set the scene for another tense Friday in a two-month-long showdown with calls for rival demonstrations in the Yemeni capital.

State news agency Saba said tribal chiefs, clerics, civil society figures, youths and supporters from the countryside were streaming into Sanaa on Thursday in response to the longtime president's call for a show of solidarity.

His challengers, mainly youths camped out at a renamed "Change Square" near Sanaa University, have also urged demonstrators to take to the streets but called off a planned march on the presidential palace for fear of violence.

"We don't want a confrontation with the president's supporters. Many of his people tomorrow will be out-of-uniform soldiers and armed tribesmen," Adel al-Walibi, a leader of the protests, told AFP.

He said the protesters would hold marches around the square and sit-ins outside key installations in the Yemeni capital.

Saleh, who has been in power for more than three decades but faces mounting protests and defections, was boosted by a huge show of support in Sanaa last Friday, which is the weekly Muslim day of rest and prayers.

The protests intensified after a bloodbath on Friday, March 18 when regime loyalists gunned down 52 people outside Sanaa University, sparking widespread international condemnation and a string of anti-regime defections.

Amnesty International puts the total death toll in clashes between protesters and regime loyalists at 95 since demonstrations broke out at the end of January, inspired by a revolution in Tunisia which ousted its president.

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