Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters called on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, in a mass protest after Friday prayers a day after the embattled leader said he will not step down.
The demonstrators marched along a main avenue in the capital, chanting “victory for our Yemen and our Syria” in a statement of support for Syrian pro-democracy activists calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Oh God, give victory to Syria and Yemen, Oh God... let Saleh and Bashar fall,” they chanted as they emerged in their tens of thousands from Friday prayers, according to AFP.
In Syria pro-democracy activists had called for protests on Friday under the slogan “victory for Syria, victory for Yemen.”
Also in Sana’a, thousands of pro-Saleh activists voiced their support for the president.
The rival protests came just a day after Saleh told The Washington Post that he will not step down if his rivals are allowed to compete in future elections.
He was referring specifically to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar who defected earlier this year in support of anti-government protesters, and powerful tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.
Another powerful rival to Saleh is opposition tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, leader of the powerful Ahmar clan. Saleh said members of the clan should not be allowed to hold senior political positions or military posts.
“If we transfer power and they are there, this will mean that we have given into a coup,” he said. “If we transfer power, and they are in their positions, and they are still decision-makers, this will be very dangerous. This will lead to civil war.”
The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council under which he would hand over power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.
On Thursday clashes between Saleh loyalist forces and Ahmar tribesmen in al-Hasaba killed two people.
The military blamed opposition leaders for downing the Sukhoi SU-22 near Arhab, 40 kilometers (26 miles) north of Sana’a, a region that is the northern gateway into the capital.
It also follows a large protest on Wednesday when hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated near Change Square, demanding Saleh’s ouster and trial.
Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country on Sept. 23, sparking violence in which scores have been killed.
Anti-government protesters in Yemen and Syria have for months been calling for their respective leaders to resign. Both governments have responded with deadly crackdowns.
On Friday, the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council said that Yemeni authorities had shown willingness to improve the situation on the ground through a resolution condemning violence in Yemen, AFP reported.
The resolution adopted Thursday by consensus by the 47 state members of the council was criticized by NGOs and the European Union as it failed to order a probe into allegations of violations in the country.
Nevertheless, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, the council’s president, said that it was significant that it was the Yemeni authorities that had asked the council to examine the situation in their country.
“We know that there are still problems on the ground but it is important that it is the national authority itself that is coming forward to ask for this technical assistance and show that they have the political willingness to progress,” said Dupuy Lasserre, who is also Uruguay’s ambassador.
“It’s going in the right direction,” she added.