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YEMEN: Student protests gather strength after deaths

Student sit-ins in front of Sana'a University have increased in size despite the killing of three students and wounding of several others in the past week. About 50,000 protestors gathered on Thursday to await Friday prayers, and their numbers swelled to hundreds of thousands on Friday.

Many tents were set up across the street and strong security measures were being taken by the protestors, with at least three rows of young volunteers searching everyone entering the area. Students camped out in tents at the university entrance for at least five days.

One student told me that a group of students and other youth were planning direct talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and were in the process of arranging a meeting. But it is not yet clear to what extent this group of students represents the protestors.

Last Saturday, 19 February, one student was shot dead and five others were wounded near the university after clashes broke out between anti-government student protestors and government supporters. The dead student and three of those injured were hit by bullets, according to the student union.

All the wounded have been hospitalised and are in a stable condition, according to Ridwan Masoud, chairman of the General Union of Yemeni Students at Sana'a and Amran universities. "Two of the injured are suffering from bullets [that] hit their legs," he said. "They have undergone successful operations and will soon leave the hospital."

There are no official reports confirming the source of the bullets

Earlier this week, clashes erupted in front of the university campus between protesters - mainly students, activists and other youth - and government supporters armed with batons and daggers. But there were no deaths.

But on Tuesday night, two people were killed and 26 injured when pro-government gunmen attacked students and other protestors. Witnesses said government supporters were using guns. Medics confirmed that the two students died from bullet wounds.

The government has denied claims by student protestors that the attackers were balaataja - paid pro-government thugs.

Earlier on Tuesday, students overturned a car and set it on fire. Protestors said it contained weapons and the occupants fled.

Meanwhile clashes between pro- and anti-government forces have intensified over the past few days as protestors have sought to control the space in front of the university campus, naming it "The Change Square".

By Tuesday night student protestors along with hundreds of youth activists controlled the area and they erected tents, sang national songs and marked the roads with anti-government slogans.

On Thursday, the president ordered the security forces to prevent clashes and fully protect both loyalists and anti-regime protestors. Since the order there has been a heavy anti-riot police deployment near the streets leading to the university and a doubling of the security force presence.

Saleh said the security authorities would not attack the demonstrators demanding his departure, adding that they were there to protect the people. "The security forces are very wise and act with a sense of responsibility as the National Defence Council ordered them not to use force against the people, except in the case of self-defence," he said.
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