Supporters of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have called for counter-demonstrations Friday in response to "Day of Martyr" rallies in several Yemeni cities that drew hundreds of thousands of anti-regime protesters.
Violence and gunfire was reported during at least one of Thursday's rallies, called to commemorate dozens of people killed in weeks of street protests demanding that Saleh resign, with several protesters wounded.
Protests in the capital, Sanaa, and elsewhere have brought Saleh’s 32-year-old rule to the verge of collapse, but the United States and Saudi Arabia — concerned about the activities of Al Qaeda in Yemen, are worried over who might succeed their ally, according to the Globe and Mail.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week that he sees the possible fall of Saleh as a “real problem,” Bloomberg reported.
A senior Western diplomat said Saleh appeared to be agonizing over his options. “My guess is that he is very torn about all of these things and that what you hear from him is functions of inner turmoil,” he told Reuters.
Protesters camped outside Sanaa University since early February are insisting that Saleh, who has said he will not run for re-election in 2013, leave soon.
Anti-government protesters in Yemen have agitating more than two months, inspired by revolts that overthrew the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt. A crackdown in the capital, Sanaa, earlier this month killed as many as 50 protesters.
Meanwhile, Saleh’s government has blamed Al Qaeda for an explosion at a weapons factory in Abyan province on March 28 that killed as many as 150 people.
Saleh has reportedly been looking for avenues to stay on as president while new parliamentary and presidential elections are organized by the end of the year, an opposition source told Reuters. Saudi authorities, meanwhile, have deflected Yemeni government efforts to involve them in mediation, Reuters reported.
Several protesters in the northwestern Hajja governorate were hit by bullets Thursday and five were in critical condition, Bloomberg reported.