Three die as prisoners in Sana'a riot over conditions

Jail revolt comes amid nationwide protests against violent repression of anti-government demonstration in Ibb province on Sunday.

SANA'A // Three inmates were killed and 20 others, including a policemen, were injured in a riot at the central prison in Sana'a yesterday that coincided with more massive demonstrations demanding an end to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule.

The riot began on Monday evening when inmates went to the main courtyard and began shouting slogans against the prison staff and Mr Saleh's regime. Prisoners took dozens of guards hostage and set ablaze mattresses and blankets, according to security and rights groups sources.

Police fired teargas and live ammunition to subdue the unrest inside one of the country's largest prisons, which houses more than 3,000 inmates.

Abdulrahman Barman, chief of Sajeen, a Sana'a-based non-governmental human rights organisation, said: "I have contacted one of the prisoners and he told me that three persons were killed and about 20 others were injured in renewed clashes."

After the riot, troops beefed up security outside the prison. Police also blocked the street in front of the jail, according to witnesses.

Mr Saleh ordered the attorney general to investigate the riot, the army website reported yesterday, without providing further details.

The prisoners were said to be demanding improved prison conditions, including permission to receive food parcels, medicine and money from their families and permission to make unrestricted telephone calls to relatives.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country again yesterday in their month-long campaign to end to Mr Saleh's 32-year rule. The protests, which swept 12 provinces, were called by the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition of six parties, in response to the violent crackdown against protesters camped out in Freedom Square in the province of Ibb on Sunday. The attack left one dead and 52 injured.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Ibb yesterday, calling on the government to prosecute those responsible for Sunday's attack. Women threw sweets to the protesters from the roofs of their houses, witnesses said.

Local media reported that police and government supporters fired gunshots to disperse the protests, which included students, in the provinces of Lahj, Shabwa and Thamar. Five protesters were reportedly injured in Thamar when they were attacked by government supporters armed with guns, sticks and stones.

In Sana'a, thousands of security and army troops were deployed around Change Square in front of Sana'a University and several main streets. Armoured vehicles were seen at the junctions of the main streets and those leading to the president's office, the central bank, defence ministry and other key government buildings.

Mohammed al Khathaf, 77, who participated in the revolution against the imamate rule in 1962 in north Yemen, said: "I come to this protest every day to support the youths in their demand for an end to the rule of tyrant Ali.

"Our revolution has been spoiled since this man [Saleh] assumed power … we have revolted against oppression … the moment for his overthrow has come and I have great confidence in the resolute youths here," said Mr al Khathaf, standing amid the chanting crowd.

In the port city of Aden, hundreds of women joined a demonstration to denounce the use of violence after a young protester was critically wounded by a bullet to the head during a rally on Monday where more than 20 protesters were arrested.

Mr Saleh declared last month that he would not seek re-election after his term ends in 2013 and would not try to transfer power to his son. Last month, he proposed the setting up of a national unity government, but the opposition rejected the idea, saying it was too late for such measures.

After rejecting an opposition road map for his exit this year, the president called on Monday for national dialogue after meetings with the country's top political and security chiefs. However, the opposition rejected the call and said there would be no dialogue unless Mr Saleh agreed to step down this year.

Violence has marked recent weeks of protests, where government supporters clashed with pro-democracy protesters. About 25 people have been killed in four weeks of protests. Sheikh Abdulwali al Jabri and Sheikh Abdullah Khairat, two MPs in the ruling General People's Congress, resigned yesterday in protest against the violence. Their resignations raises the number of MPs who have quit the party to 17 since the protests started.